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Lower fruit, vegetable prices might save 500,000 lives

Staff writer |
Cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables, while bumping up prices on junk food, could prevent thousands of deaths from heart disease and stroke each year in the United States.

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Researchers say that policies to trim the cost of produce, such as agriculture subsidies, could make healthy eating affordable for more Americans. And that could translate into more than 500,000 lives saved over 20 years.

The projections are based on a computer model that simulated how pricing policies could affect Americans' dietary habits, and ultimately heart disease and stroke rates.

The studies did not prove that cutting prices on fruits and vegetables and raising prices on sugary drinks would save lives. They only showed an association.

While there is no crystal ball, experts said it's reasonable to assume that cheaper prices would boost Americans' fruit and vegetable intake.

Scientists used data on Americans' demographics, rates of heart disease and stroke, and current fruit and vegetable intake. They estimated how various food-pricing policies could ultimately change people's cardiovascular outlook, versus what would happen with no policy shifts.

They found that a 30 percent drop in the cost of fruits and vegetables would translate to a more than 3 percent decrease in Americans' death rates from heart attack and stroke over 15 years. That amounts to roughly 200,000 lives saved.

But even a much smaller dip in those prices could have big benefits, the researchers added, if it were paired with an increase in the cost of junk food.

They estimated that if prices on fruits, vegetables and grains fell just 10 percent, while the cost of sugary drinks rose by the same amount, there could be 515,000 fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke over 20 years.

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