Two new studies in the US suggest that cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables and raising junk food prices could have a major impact on public health by encouraging consumption of healthy foods.
The research also appears to show that price reductions may be a more effective way to reduce cardiovascular-related deaths than mass media campaigns.
The findings, presented on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA) in Phoenix, are based on a computer model that simulates how pricing policies could affect dietary habits.
One study showed that a 10 per cent reduction in the price of fresh produce and grains, coupled with a similar increase in the price of sugary drinks, could prevent more than half a million deaths from heart disease in the US by 2035.
“A change in your diet can be challenging, but if achieved through personal choice or changes in the market place, it can have a profound effect on your cardiovascular health,” said Dr Thomas Gaziano, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and lead author of the study.
Dr Gaziano also presented the results of another study that suggests that cutting the price of fruits and vegetables could have a more significant effect than the mass media campaigns on reducing death rates.
The team used a computer model to estimate how a 10 per cent price cut in fruits and vegetables could reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by about 1 per cent over the next 15 years, equivalent to around 67,000 lives, while a 30 per cent cut would reduce death rates by around 3 per cent, or around 200,000 lives.
AHA president Dr Mark Creager said economics played a role in people’s lifestyles.
“Taxes that increased the price of tobacco have clearly had a very favourable impact on the number of Americans who smoke, so it’s not a stretch to assume that cheaper prices on healthy food would also have a positive effect,” he said.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US, responsible for around 610,000 deaths every year.