It was Hippocrates who first said “Let thy food be thy medicine.” And while it may have taken a few thousand years for this to really catch on, doctors in New York City have finally started applying this concept to their patients.
NYC docs involved in the Wholesome Wave program have now started writing prescriptions for fruits and vegetables for their patients battling obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high-cholesterol, and other weight-related diseases. Instead of drugs for weight loss, doctors provide these patients with a “prescription” of sorts to eat more vegetables and fruits.
It is this program’s goal to empower under-served and low-income communities with access to healthy foods in efforts to manage obesity and its resulting health conditions. In recent coverage from the New York Times, success stories are popping up throughout the 1200 different low-income families enrolled in the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, or FVRx, in four major hospitals throughout New York City.
Most astonishing is that after just four months in the program, 40% of children successfully lowered their body-mass index (BMI) once they ate their prescribed fruits and veggies.
Each month, patients meet with their doctors and nutritionists to review their FVRx, check BMI, and talk more about developing a healthy diet. Some patients can even meet once a week with their support team, depending on the individual case.
Participants are provided with nutrition education, recipe ideas, and most notably, tokens redeemable for healthy produce at local farmers markets. These can be used in addition to food stamps, which are accepted throughout farmers markets in all 50 states. Patients leave with a prescription to fill, which is then converted into Health Bucks redeemable at 140 farmers markets in the city. Participants get $1 per day per family member, meaning a family of four gets $28 of free produce per week. That’s enough to help not only the patient in the program get healthier, but the entire family!
The movement to improve access to healthy foods to under-served communities is a worthwhile one, but most families need this extra push. “For people today with income shortages, getting good food like high-quality fruits and vegetables is a big problem,” said Michel Nischan, founder of Wholesome Wave, who established the partnership with local farmers. “A movement to restrict food stamps to healthy foods is well-meaning, but it doesn’t work in many areas where 7-Eleven is the main source of people’s food.” The local farmers benefit, too. They are reimbursed for the full value of their goods from grants and community-based nonprofits.
For those who don’t quality for the program, that doesn’t mean this prescription isn’t relevant. Everyone is encouraged to eat more vegetables and fresh produce, (13 servings per day!), especially if overcoming any diagnosed health condition. Nischan is hopeful that this program will spread throughout the United States, but until then, assume your prescription meds come with a supplemental Rx for extra fruits and veggies.