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Subsidized diets would save U.S. more than $100B in healthcare costs, study shows

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If 30% of the costs of fruits and vegetables were covered under Medicare and Medicaid, that subsidy would prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and approximately 350,000 deaths associated with those conditions, a new study sponsored by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) found. Likewise, the researchers found that if 30% of the costs of fruits, vegetables, healthy whole grains and seafood were covered by U.S. government programs, that would prevent 3.28 million cardiovascular events, 620,000 deaths and 120,000 cases of diabetes.

“It costs money, but most of that is offset by lower healthcare costs,” said study author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in an interview with Popular Science. “When you look at the cost per year of life saved, all of the interventions were extremely cost effective.”

They study was conducted using a “microsimulation model” of 5-, 10- and 20-year-old participants, projecting over the course of their lifetimes. Researchers obtained baseline characteristics, including risks, dietary habits and disease incidence data, from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2009 through 2014. The model used this data to assess health outcomes and costs based on current trends as well as alternative scenarios.

“So many of us want health insurance companies to recognize the value of food,” said Rita Nguyen, medical director of healthy food initiatives at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, in the Popular Science article. “It’s not because we’re ‘bleeding heart liberals.’ It’s based on the science. When you give people food, and healthy food, it saves money.”

Speaking of money, the subsidized produce would save almost $40 billion in healthcare costs, and the additional healthy food subsidies would save more than $100 billion.

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