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Researchers can now predict how food costs impact public health.
It's not enough, apparently, to tell people that fruits and vegetables are healthy. We've been hearing that for decades, and change hasn't come fast enough. Lowering prices, however, would make all the difference, reports NPR.
How do we know this? Because researchers are now working with a data model that can simulate changes in diet and forecast outcomes. Analysts from the U.K. and Tufts University are working with a tool called the IMPACT Food Policy Model, which melds projections of U.S. demographics, cardiovascular deaths, fruit and vegetable consumption, and variable pricing through to 2030. Lower prices lead to healthier bodies, and thus fewer casualties from heart disease and stroke. The team thinks a 30 percent price cut on healthy produce could save almost 200,000 lives over 15 years.
"It's the ability to model outcomes that's new here," says Dr. Mark Creager, a cardiovascular disease expert and president of the American Heart Association.
Creager was partially inspired by two former scenarios: When cigarette prices went up, consumers smoked substantially less—and thus avoided health risks associated with tobacco. It was simple cause and effect. The same kind of thing happened when Mexico added a tax on soda and other sugary drinks; consumption went down 12 percent in prelimary findings.
Figuring out how to bring down produce prices is the tricky part. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist, epidemiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, believes that state or national subsidies could reduce prices at the farm or wholesaler level. The USDA, specifically, could step up its investment in produce-related subsidy programs, and in related promotional programs and research education. Currently, the government spends six times more on proteins than it does on vegetables and fruits, according to Elizabeth Pivonka, president of Produce for Better Health Foundation.
Ultimately, we'll have to reduce prices and bring these less expensive fruits and vegetables to the communities that need them most. Make healthy food affordable and accessible, and people will eat the good stuff.