The $11 Trillion Reason to Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

If we all ate like our moms told us to, it could save a whole ton of money—and lots of lives.

Cardiovascular Disease: Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

Pictured: Lots of money saved on healthcare costs. (Photo: blueviking63/Flickr)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

As we reported yesterday, GOP members of the House are itching to cut $40 billion dollars from the government’s main food assistance program, SNAP, over the next 10 years. Spending less on the social safety net at any and all costs seems to be the overarching drive of the farm food assistance policy on the House side of Congress (remember the whole farm-only Farm Bill thing?), but imagine how stoked Speaker John Boehner, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the rest of the fiscal conservative crowd would be about the prospect of saving an astonishing $11 trillion dollars by making a few policy changes? Oh, and they could save 127,000 lives per year too.

The Union of Concerned Scientists lays out just such scenario in a new report, “The $11 Trillion Reward,” released yesterday. UCS research has determined that focusing on reducing the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, which caused more than 750,000 American deaths in 2011, could bring about that gargantuan savings. How do they suggest doing it? By listening to your mother, natch: Seriously, we should all really be eating our fruits and vegetables.

How does eating fruits and vegetables save all that money? Well, doing so improves heart health substantially. So much so, that when you consider the annual death rate, figure in the $17 billion in medical costs spent on cardiovascular disease, and you do the weird math thing “using estimates of how much people are willing to invest in measures to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality,” eating more fruits and vegetables adds up to $11 trillion in savings. Since that’s a fantasy land of zeros, an unknowable sum, consider this: The national debt is currently inching its way toward $17 trillion.

But here comes the part that fiscal conservatives would surely balk at: The Union of Concerned Scientists wants to bring around all of that savings by “capitalizing on the increasing public interest in buying fresh and healthful produce from local farmers.” Meaning they want specific farm policy changes: Incentivizing an increase in production of fruits and vegetables on American farms, and making the resulting harvest more readily available to consumers through farmers markets and other broadly accessible food outlets. And that would all fly in the face of the corporate welfare scheme that is crop subsidies and crop insurance, both of which are geared toward farms of the large-scale, commodity monoculture variety.

The public, however, appears to support the kind of action that UCS is promoting: According to the report, 86 percent support government action to prevent heart disease, and 84 percent support more affordable access to fruits and vegetables.

And while I’m not sure of the polling statistics, I think the majority of people support the idea of saving $11 trillion dollars and a whole lot of lives.

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