July Research Roundup
Our quarterly Research Roundup features highlights from recent studies and reports in the realm of food, health, and community belonging.
Small dietary improvements linked to longer lives
Harvard researchers tracked the eating habits of over 70,000 people for more than a decade and found that even modest improvements to diet – like cutting back on red and processed meat and adding a daily serving of nuts or legumes – can significantly reduce the risk of premature death. Those who made moderate healthy changes to their diets saw an eight to 17% reduction in risk of dying early within 12 years.
Dietary fats and heart health
A comprehensive review by the American Heart Association found that replacing saturated fats (e.g. fats from dairy and meat, coconut oil) with polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils significantly reduces the risk of heart disease. Conversely, replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates was not found to reduce heart disease risk, and study participants had a harder time sticking to low-fat diets. The review includes a helpful table (pg. e4) summarizing the types of fats found in different oils and animal fats.
Fruit and vegetable subsidies could save lives
A recent study by Pearson-Stuttard et al. predicts that a 10% fruit and vegetable subsidy in the U.S. could prevent or postpone 150,000 deaths due to heart disease by 2030. The 10% subsidy was estimated to prevent or postpone five times more deaths than a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers also noted that the addition of a 30% fruit and vegetable subsidy for low-income populations would help to reduce socioeconomic health disparities.
Implications of Basic Income Guarantee for food insecurity
A research paper by Valerie Tarasuk makes the case that a Basic Income Guarantee would more effectively address food insecurity than more targeted policies and programs, such as interventions that increase minimum wage, raise social assistance rates, or offer in-kind supports to specific at-risk groups. Tarasuk points to the success achieved in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Poverty Reduction Strategy which, through a cascade of policy reforms, reduced food insecurity by almost half. Similar results are seen in the Guaranteed Income Supplement which reduces food insecurity rates by close to 50% once seniors turn 65.
The cost of healthy living
A paper released by Nishi Kumar of the Wellesley Institute argues that Canada’s poverty measures do not take into account the true costs and resources needed to live a healthy life. Many Canadians living above the low-income threshold are still struggling to access the key determinants of physical, mental, and social health. For example, up to 7.6% of households above the Low-Income Measure are moderately or severely food insecure, meaning they skip meals or have to rely on cheap, unhealthy options. Kumar concludes that we need to reconsider our targets for poverty reduction: instead of asking “What does a person need to survive?” the central question should be “What does a person need to live a healthy life?”
Food insecurity and mental health
According to a global study by Andrew D. Jones, people who experience food insecurity in any part of the world are more likely to have poorer mental health, independent of socioeconomic factors. The author discusses possible explanations, for instance, food insecurity has been found to trigger feelings of stress, shame, and powerlessness which may contribute to anxiety and depression.