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Are Veggies an Alternative to Drugs?

It’s no secret that America is suffering from an opioid epidemic — and overprescribing prescription medications has been identified as a significant contributing factor. As the dangers of prescription drugs become more apparent, some doctors may be opting for a more natural approach. In a new study, public health experts found that a healthy food prescription could improve overall health and in the long run, be a more cost-effective option than a prescription for medication, when it comes to certain health issues.

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To conduct the study, researchers used a computer simulation that generated sample representatives of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. They utilized data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, published sources and meta-analyses to model the health and economic benefits to health food prescriptions in two different scenarios.

In the first scenario, Medicare and Medicaid covered 30% of fruit and vegetable purchases. In the second, Medicare and Medicaid covered 30% of fruit, vegetable, whole grain, nut/seed, seafood and plant-based oil purchases. Researchers found that the fruit and vegetable incentive prevented 1.93 million cases of cardiovascular disease among beneficiaries. In the group with a broader healthy food incentive, a total of 3.28 million cardiovascular disease cases were prevented. The study also found that insurance coverage of whole grains, nuts and seeds prevented 120,000 cases of diabetes.

In addition to the clear health benefits of a healthy diet prescription, the study showed that both models were significantly more cost-effective than a drug prescription. The fruit and vegetable incentive resulted in $39.7 billion in savings, while the broader healthy food incentive resulted in $100.2 billion in savings.

Considering that your diet plays a key role in your health, the results of the study aren’t surprising. When it comes to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, most patients are able to reduce their risk through a healthy, well-balanced diet. If only more doctors could get on board with prescribing healthy foods instead of one medication after the next, the number of cardiovascular disease and diabetes cases prevented in the study might actually become a reality.

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