What if instead of calling in a prescription for medication that you can’t even pronounce, your physician hands you a prescription for fruits and veggies? Sounds otherworldly, but it’s already happening.
Enter the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, which “fosters innovative partnerships between healthcare and community food providers to make a direct connection between increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and improved health among vulnerable community members,” according to the program’s website.
Designed to help overweight and obese children who are at risk of developing such diseases as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the program also offers small and midsize farmers economic benefits. Participants receive fruit and vegetable prescriptions, which are distributed by community healthcare providers and redeemed at participating farmers markets.
The early stages of the program began in 2010 with a feasibility study conducted by Wholesome Wave, which is a national organization that supports small and midsize farms and aims to make local fruits and veggies available to all. The study included 246 participants, three healthcare partners and a statewide network of farmers markets. The results: “The program had a significant effect on participants’ shopping and eating habits, as well as on their knowledge about the importance of fruits and vegetables in their diet.”
The program was then expanded to a number of other sites in 2011. In 2012, the program expanded to include 12 sites in seven states.
Healthcare providers and farmers market partners identify and enroll overweight and obese children. A primary care provider and nutritionist meet with each participant monthly, where the participant receives an FVRx prescription redeemable for locally grown produce and valued at $1 per day per family member. The participants then redeem the FVRx prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets at least every two weeks throughout the four- to six-month program.
At each visit, the primary care providers track the weight and BMI of the participants, who also fill out surveys to measure changes in their knowledge and shopping habits. In the meantime, the farmers markets track prescription redemption information.
Here are some stats from the program during 2012, which included 815 children and 760 adults:
55.3% of participants reported an increase in their fruit and vegetable consumption.
37.8% of child participants decreased BMI.
53% of families visited the farmers markets eight or more times during the FVRx season.
58% of patients completed the program, making at least three visits to the health center and six visits to the farmers markets.
Fruits and veggies prescribed by a doctor? Redeemed at a local farmers market? What could be bad? Certainly, urging people to eat more fruits and vegetables and supporting local farmers is a worthwhile initiative, but we’re yet to see if this program will have a long-lasting effect on people’s health and food choices. It's hard to break a habit of poor nutritional choices, but any effort toward changing the diet of Americans is a step in the right direction.
Sound off below and let us know if you think this prescription program will work in the long term.