By The Editors
According to a brand new report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables could save more than 100,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs from heart disease each year. In addition, better farm policies, designed to encourage production of healthy food instead of processed junk foods, will help us reap those benefits.
“The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There” examines the linkage between fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of cardiovascular diseases. These diseases, the leading killer of Americans, include coronary heart disease and stroke, which together are responsible for 725,000 U.S. deaths each year. The report finds that if Americans consumed just one additional serving of fruits or vegetables a day, the nation would save $5 billion in health care expenditures and prevent 30,301 heart disease and stroke deaths annually.
If Americans were to go a step further and ate a full 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily, as recommended by federal dietary guidelines, it could prevent 127,261 deaths each year and save $17 billion in medical costs. The economic value of the lives saved from cardiovascular diseases is an astounding $11 trillion.
“Eating right is good for your health, and it rewards both your wallet and the economy,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, an agricultural economist with UCS’s Food & Environment Program and author of the report. “Helping Americans eat more of the right foods should be a public policy priority.”
Current farm policies set by Congress and implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) channel taxpayer dollars into subsidies for commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans, which are used as feed for livestock, biofuels and as processed food ingredients. These policies offer few incentives for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables – effectively discouraging production of the very foods federal dietary guidelines recommend.
“In addition to these perverse subsidies, these policies mean that consumers and taxpayers are footing the bill twice – once to subsidize commodity crops that become ingredients in unhealthy foods, and again to treat skyrocketing rates of costly diet-related illnesses such as heart disease and stroke,” said O’Hara.
The three-minute video below, produced by UCS, summarizes how we can achieve an $11 trillion reward through forward-looking farm policies.