Research

How much money do produce prescriptions save?

A study at the Gillings School of Global Public Health will measure how produce prescriptions improve health outcomes and lower health care costs for communities.

Baskets of fruits and vegetables
A lack of access to healthy food is associated with diseases including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and cancer. (Adobe stock image)

A new project will be exploring the benefits of food prescription programs, which provide a monthly electronic benefit for participants to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. In early studies, this type of intervention has been shown to improve health outcomes. With a $765,000 grant from The Duke Endowment, this project will investigate a new facet of these programs: return on investment in the form of improved health outcomes and lower health care costs for communities. Although produce prescriptions have shown positive results, previous studies have not commonly examined implications for cost. These findings will be valuable for decision making about creating or expanding programs.

“A lack of access to healthy food is associated with a host of diseases including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diet-related cancers. As a result of systemic racism, low-income, Black, Indigenous and other people of color are more likely to experience food insecurity and are at higher risk for related health impacts,” said Shu Wen Ng, distinguished scholar in public health nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the principal investigator of this new project.

The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened these issues. Addressing gaps in the availability of healthy food stands to improve health outcomes, reduce disparities and save money for overburdened health care systems.

Read more about the study.