Fruits and veg, by prescription: NYC launches new program
Published Friday, July 26, 2013 11:48AM EDT
Low-income families in New York City struggling with obesity will soon be offered doctor prescriptions -- not for pills, but for fruits and vegetables.
The city has just launched an initiative modelled on programs already up and running in seven other states called the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program, to help low-income families access fresh foods.
Dr. Shikha Anand, a pediatrician and one of the co-founders of the FVRx program in Massachusetts, says it was during discussions with her patients about preventing and slowing obesity that she realized the need for the program.
“I’ve been doing obesity visits with my patients for a long time. And during that time, I was consistently recommending fresh fruits and vegetables. As I got into conversations with families, I began to realize they couldn’t find fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighbourhood, and if they could find them, they couldn’t afford them,” Anand told CTV’s Canada AM from Boston Friday.
That led Anand to team up with Wholesome Wave, a non-profit group in Bridgeport, Conn. that supports family farmers and community access to local produce. Together, they came up with the idea of a coupon program called “Health Bucks” for families to use at farmers’ markets.
This week, New York City launched two similar programs at health clinics in the Bronx and Harlem.
The idea is that families will meet with a doctor at each clinic, as well as a nutritionist and community health worker, to discuss the connection between health and nutrition.
They will then be offered Health Bucks equivalent to $1 per family member per day, so that they can buy unprocessed fruits and vegetables at the markets. That adds up to about $128 per month for a family of four.
Patients are asked to return to the clinic monthly to renew their fruit and vegetable prescriptions, have their body mass index (BMI) evaluated, and discuss their self-managed goals for healthy eating.
Results from FVRx pilot programs in other communities have suggested that the majority of patients increased their fruit and vegetable consumption. They also continued regular visits to the doctor and increased their knowledge about the importance of fruits and vegetables in their diet and where to buy locally grown produce.
Anand said that all led to real results on the scales.
About 38 per cent of our patients decreased their BMI over the course of the season. So we have seen some changes in weight,” she reports. “That’s something that’s challenging to accomplish in such a short time.”
As well, families reported that they were happier with the health care they were receiving, Anand says. “Many families have told us that they feel that their doctor really cares more about their health than they ever felt before.”
What’s more, health care providers feel better about the care they’re giving too.
“Before, I was recommending that families consume more fruits and vegetables but I knew they really had no ability to do that. So it’s been satisfying to really back their recommendations with access,” she said.
And finally, farmers markets are reporting increased traffic and sales, which bodes well for their future in the low-income communities where Anand says it’s often hard to sustain business.
The programs are being funded by private donations, she said, and a $250,000 grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is helping to kickstart the New York City program. But the hope is that if the programs prove successful, they will be built into a broader policy.
At the launch of the New York City program earlier this week, Wholesome Wave executive vice president Gus Schumacher said he hoped the programs would lead to a re-thinking of the importance of nutrition in maintaining basic health.
“Our vision for the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program is that it will lead us all to view farmers markets as pharmacies providing access to healthy affordable locally-grown fruits and vegetables,” he said.