If we ate more fruits and vegetables each day, over 100,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs associated with heart disease could be saved every year, according to a newly released report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The number of dollars saved could even reach $11 trillion because of the increased longevity which results from people living healthy lifestyles.
The Cost of Heart Disease
Heart disease is America’s number one killer even though it is both preventable and controllable. 725,000 Americans die every year from various forms of heart diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure.
The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that nearly 116 million Americans, around 40.5 percent, will have from some form of heart disease by 2030. Today’s percentage is fast reaching the 2030 projection as 36.9 percent of Americans—that’s one in every three people—suffer from heart disease.
The price of heart disease is astronomical. Health costs are expected to triple from $273 billion, recorded in 2010, to $818 billion in 2030. Moreover, lost productivity, including days off from work and earnings lost because of premature death, will cost us $104 billion more over the next 20 years, The Huffington Post reported.
Healthy Eating Can Save Lives and Money
The UCS’s new report reveals that there’s a simple answer to a healthier, long-living and less expensive America—eating more fruits and vegetables. According to UCS, more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in health care costs would be saved every year if Americans ate just one extra serving of fruits or vegetables per day.
These numbers significantly increase if Americans eat a full 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit every day, as suggested by the USDA, resulting in more than 127,000 lives and $17 billion saved. The total economic value of eating healthier as a nation numbers $11 trillion.
Government Support is Needed for a Healthier America
So how can America go about saving thousands of lives and billions, even trillions of dollars? The UCS says that our government must divest from commodity crops and invest in healthy ones—fruits and vegetables that is.
“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.”
Currently, our government heavily subsidizes commodity crops, like corn and soybeans, which are used for biofuels, livestock feed and unhealthy processed food. These subsidies discourage the growth of vegetables and fruits—what federal dietary guidelines recommend and what will help Americans live healthier, fuller and less costly lives. This is because farmers who cultivate commodity crops are not eligible for subsidies if they grow fruits and vegetables on the same land, Willy Blackmore of Take Part reports.
“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.
In addition to a revamp of our federal government’s food policy, UCS stresses that crop insurance must be made more readily available to fruit and vegetable farmers, promotion of farmers markets and local food outlets should be a priority and consumer education along with the support of nutrition benefit programs like SNAP (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program) are keys to encouraging a healthier America.
For a succinct summary of UCS’s report, watch this video they produced below illustrating how we can reap an $11 trillion reward through eating healthy and farm policy reform.
Image source: Sakurai Midori / Wikipedia Commons