NEW YORK (August 8, 2013) – The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) yesterday released a report finding significant potential to save lives and health care costs if Americans simply ate more fruits and vegetables each day. The report was released during a press conference at the Mount Sinai Greenmarket in front of Mount Sinai Medical Center.
“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, are responsible for 750,000 U.S. deaths each year and are driving up national health care expenditures.
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 eat 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 from these diseases. The economic value of those lives saved would be an astounding $11 trillion.
The press conference, moderated by The Mount Sinai Hospital’s Interim President Dr. David Reich, focused on the report’s findings, the impacts of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes in communities such as East Harlem, the role that innovative partnerships like the Mount Sinai Greenmarket can play to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and the need for more such markets nationwide. The conference included also report author and UCS Agricultural Economist Jeffrey O’Hara; Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, director of the Cardiac Health Program at The Mount Sinai Medical Center; Marcel Van Ooyen with GrowNYC’S Greenmarket; and New York-based chef, restaurateur and television personality Tom Colicchio.
The Mount Sinai Greenmarket, a collaboration between the Mount Sinai Medical Center and GrowNYC’s Greenmarket, is counteracting the negative ramifications of the nation’s food policies by helping individuals in a medically underserved community eat more healthy produce – and this will save lives and billions in future medical costs.
“The current food system requires consumers and taxpayers to foot 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,” said O’Hara. “These policies also offer few incentives for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables – effectively discouraging production of the healthy foods federal dietary guidelines recommend.”
The report urges Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin to shift taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from processed food ingredients to fruits, vegetables, and local markets. Increased investments are especially needed to improve healthy food access for low-income communities, which are hardest hit by cardiovascular disease and other diet-related illnesses. Low-income neighborhoods – where some 30 million Americans reside – are often far from grocery stores and other sources of fresh produce, hindering access.
“We are pleased to join the Union of Concerned Scientists in their call for Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables to help reduce the adverse health effects of poor diet and nutrition and the resulting economic burden of healthcare costs,” said David Reich, MD, Interim President of The Mount Sinai Hospital during the press conference. “We will continue to invest in initiatives that increase access to healthier foods to help lower the impact of disease and reduce the costs of providing quality healthcare.”
The Mount Sinai Medical Center lies on the border between East Harlem, where rates of obesity and diabetes are nearly double those of the city average, and the Upper East Side, where obesity rates are significantly lower. Mount Sinai has partnered with Grow NYC to help address these health disparities and by increasing the number of affordable healthy food options in the neighborhood. Additionally, The Mount Sinai Medical Center provides staff and patients healthier food choices, such as locally-sourced produce used in its salads, juices and other offerings.
“Increased access to fruits and vegetables by children and adults alike can be giant leap forward in our battle to combat heart disease —the number one killer of New Yorkers and Americans,” says Mary Ann McLaughlin, MD, medical director of the Cardiac Health Program at The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Fruits and vegetables provide a good source of healthy anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Studies have shown that people with a higher daily intake of fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop heart disease compared with people who consume low amounts of these foods. If Americans choose to eat more fruits and vegetables it could not only save money, but also their lives.”
GrowNYC’s Greenmarkets are a great example of how policy can help improve access to healthy foods. Today, Greenmarket has over 50 markets, many in low-income neighborhood, and sources food from more than 230 family farms and fisheries. In 2009 Greenmarket received a Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – a program UCS has long supported – that helped the organization expand access in low-income areas by helping more Greenmarkets to accept SNAP (formerly food stamps) Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT). Accepting EBT payments allows all shoppers to frequent their markets. In 2005, only three Greenmarkets accepted EBT payments, but with help from USDA, patrons can now use EBT cards at 51 Greenmarkets.
“For nearly forty years, GrowNYC’s Greenmarkets have been working to increase access to fresh, healthy food for all New Yorkers while simultaneously helping small, regional farms stay strong in an evolving food system,” said Marcel Van Ooyen, executive director, GrowNYC. “In addition to improving health and keeping land in agricultural production, the findings from this report point out that shopping locally has the potential to make a huge difference for us all on the national level.”
Markets like The Mount Sinai Greenmarket are especially important, as studies show that consumers will purchase and consume more fresh fruits and vegetables when they shop at farmers markets.
“This UCS report gives us a great blueprint for those of us fighting against hunger and diet-related illnesses,” said Colicchio. “Greenmarkets are on the forefront of how we’re going to change the health crisis that we have in this country. But, to fully resolve these hunger, health, access and affordability issues, we must start talking about the farm bill and voting around food and food issues.”