Healthy Food Prescription Programs and their Impact on Dietary Behavior and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Adv Nutr. 2021 Oct 1;12(5):1944-1956. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab039.


The enormous burden of diet-related chronic diseases has prompted interest in healthy food prescription programs. Yet, the impact of such programs remains unclear. The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic review of healthy food prescription programs and evaluate their impact on dietary behavior and cardiometabolic parameters by meta-analysis. A systematic search was carried out in Medline, Embase, Scopus, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials databases since their inception to 3 January, 2020 without language restriction. A systematic search of interventional studies investigating the effect of healthy food prescription on diet quality and/or cardiometabolic risk factors including BMI, systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP), glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), or blood lipids was carried out. Thirteen studies were identified for inclusion, most of which were quasi-experimental (pre/post) interventions without a control group (n = 9). Pooled estimates revealed a 22% (95% CI: 12, 32; n = 5 studies, n = 1039 participants; I2 = 97%) increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, corresponding to 0.8 higher daily servings (95% CI: 0.2, 1.4; I2 = 96%). BMI decreased by 0.6 kg/m2 (95% CI: 0.2, 1.1; I2 = 6.4%) and HbA1c by 0.8% (95% CI: 0.1, 1.6; I2 = 92%). No significant change was observed in other cardiometabolic parameters. These findings should be interpreted with caution in light of considerable heterogeneity, methodological limitations of the included studies, and moderate to very low certainty of evidence. Our results support the need for well-designed, large, randomized controlled trials in various settings to further establish the efficacy of healthy food prescription programs on diet quality and cardiometabolic health.

Keywords: chronic diseases; culinary medicine; diet; food insecurity; food is medicine; food pharmacy; food policy; global burden of disease; nutrition; public health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Diet
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Prescriptions
  • Vegetables*