Produce Prescription Programs Show Promise in Lowering Blood Pressure, Says Recent Research

by Ella

Imagine your doctor prescribing fruits and vegetables alongside medications. This unconventional approach is at the heart of produce prescription programs, gaining recognition for their positive impact on heart health. A study, featured in the August 29th, 2023 edition of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), led by Kurt Hager, Ph.D., M.S., an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School, has unveiled encouraging outcomes. Drawing data from nine diverse programs across the United States, the research reveals that participants, including 2,064 adults and 1,817 children at heightened risk for cardiovascular disease, witnessed substantial enhancements in body mass index (BMI), blood sugar levels, and blood pressure after embracing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, even food insecurity, a known health influencer, showed signs of improvement among program participants.

In this report, we delve into the study’s findings and explore how the incorporation of fruits and vegetables can be a boon for heart health.


Key Findings of the Heart Health Study


Participants in these pioneering produce prescription initiatives received an average of $63 per month to allocate towards fresh produce purchases. Additionally, they engaged in nutrition classes and underwent regular health assessments. Among the adult participants, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure exhibited significant reductions, while HbA1C levels, a marker of blood sugar, demonstrated improvements. Astonishingly, adults experienced a 62% increased likelihood of reporting enhanced overall health, with children more than doubling their chances upon program completion. Particularly noteworthy was the average reduction in HbA1C levels by 0.3%, a decrease in blood pressure levels by 8.4mmHg, and a BMI reduction of 0.4kg/m2 for adult participants.


Kurt Hager commented, “These results indicate produce prescriptions may lay an important foundation for improved health and well-being.” The study, conducted in collaboration with the non-profit organization Wholesome Wave, involved over 3,800 participants residing in low-income neighborhoods, either facing food insecurity or at risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


Beyond the individual benefits, this study also underscored the broader implications of food policy in public health. Throughout the research, questionnaires assessing fruit and vegetable consumption, food security, and health status were administered at the program’s commencement and conclusion. Notably, one-third of participants reported a reduction in food insecurity post-program, emphasizing that improved access to healthier food choices can directly elevate community well-being. Mitchell Elkind, M.D., Chief Clinical Science Officer of the AHA, remarked, “Poor nutrition and nutrition insecurity are major drivers of chronic disease globally. Our findings reinforce that produce prescriptions could serve as a cornerstone in national efforts to address these complex challenges.”

In Conclusion

Recent research, published in Circulation, illuminates the potential of food as a form of medicine. It highlights how an increased intake of fruits and vegetables can lead to tangible enhancements in cardiovascular health markers, all while alleviating food insecurity. Mitchell Elkind aptly noted, “This analysis of produce prescription programs illustrates the potential of subsidized produce prescriptions to increase consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables, reduce food insecurity, and, hopefully, improve subjective and objective health measures.” These findings present a compelling case for comprehensive food policy reforms and further research to solidify these promising results.



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