Grocery shopping on a budget is not uncommon for the average American, who may have to pass on a bushel of apples or a head of lettuce to stay within a budget. At the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions, an international team of researchers presented compelling evidence that supports lowering the price of fruits and vegetables to improve heart health among Americans.

"Poor diet is a large contributor to cardiovascular disease, which is the biggest killer in the United States," said the study’s lead researcher Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, a clinical fellow and public health registrar for Imperial College London, at the presentation. “Governments must therefore implement effective dietary policies to tackle this growing burden. Both mass media campaigns and achieving price reductions of fruits and vegetables are important tools in achieving this."

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, killing nearly one million people each year, according to The Heart Foundation. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients, which work together in the body to help protect the heart from high blood pressure and cholesterol, along with lowering the risk of heart disease. For an active adult consuming 2,000 calories a day, their dietary pattern should include at least 4.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day to reap heart healthy benefits.

Researchers crunched the numbers and found it’s likely that reducing the price of fruits and vegetables may financially incentivize consumers to purchase more of them. Reducing the price by 10 percent over the next 15 years will save approximately 64,000 to 69,000 lives that would have otherwise been claimed by heart disease. In the next calculated scenario, researchers found that by reducing the price by 30 percent, it would save between 191,000 and 205,000 lives over the same period of time.

Researchers based their math on the heart disease death rates projected up until the year 2030. Next, they measured how many people would be expected to die over the next 15 years and compared that death rate to how many lives would be saved if they followed a healthier, balanced diet with fruits and vegetables. In addition, there are people who want to eat healthy but don’t have the financial freedom to do so. By removing that costly hurdle, it opens the door for those people who want to purchase more fruits and vegetables but whose budgets prohibited them from doing so. Tapping into this population will readily increase improvements in diet across the board, ultimately lowering the risk for heart disease.

"Strategies that increase the awareness, availability and affordability of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables should be harnessed and adopted by the U.S.," the study’s principal investigator author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said at the presentation. "Further, policies aimed at subsidizing fruits and vegetables could have more equitable effects upon health across race and ethnic groups. And crucially, this can be achieved quickly."

Source: Mozaffarian D, O’Flaherty M, and Pearson-Stuttard J, et al. American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions . 2016.