The issue of obesity in our country, especially in lower-income areas, has become a problem of epic proportions. An individual’s risk of becoming obese is passed down through generations, an often self-fulfilling prophecy that revolves around lack of nutritional education, scant access to healthy foods, and limited financial resources.
Over the decades doctors have approached the issue with words of warning: “If you don’t eat more healthy foods you could develop diabetes.” This type of finger wagging is doomed to failure, however, especially when patients live in areas without access to affordable fruits and vegetables, otherwise known as “food deserts.” In other words, when the choice becomes either a) eat expensive (and sometimes inconvenient to find) berries and broccoli or b) pay the rent and put clothes on your kids, most people choose the latter, even if this means eating fast food.
Other methods that doctors have employed to combat obesity have included prescribing pills such as appetite suppressants--hardly the healthiest option.
But what if there was a way to offer healthy eating education as well as food access and affordability to lower-income communities where residents struggle with health and weight? And what if that solution also benefited local farmers and organic agriculture? Sounds like the stuff dreams are made of...
Enter Wholesome Wave, an organization created in part by James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Michel Nischan in 2007. The program has since joined forces with over 25 community based partners across the country. These include hospitals and farmers markets participating in the recently piloted “Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program” or FVRx in New York City.
According to the website the program,
Provides families affected by diet-related diseases with a prescription for fruits and vegetables to be spent at participating farmers markets and retail outlets.”
Say a person is struggling with poverty and living in an area of a city that is considered a food desert. The most affordable option for them is to buy their groceries at nearest bodega or 7-11, or give up and drive through a McDonalds.
Signing up for FVRx means they can be seen by one of the doctors participating in the program. Instead of the doctor telling them to “watch their weight” or pumping them full of drugs, the patient receives a prescription for healthy fruits and vegetables along with recipes and food education. But that’s not all. Patients also receive something called Health Bucks, redeemable at participating Farmers Markets. The farmers are reimbursed for the full amount of their products with money paid for by community non-profits and grants. This in turn allows them to grow their businesses and remain in the areas they serve.
An article by NPR explains that,
The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program is meant to benefit whole families and communities at a time. Patients in the program receive $1 in Health Bucks per day for each person in their family for a period of at least four months. Each month, patients check in with the hospital to have their prescriptions renewed, and their weight and body mass index evaluated. They also receive nutritional counseling.”
As far as the health benefits, the New York Times explains that, “after just four months in the program 40 percent of participating children lowered their B.M.I.” The article then goes onto say that 96 percent of participating families ate more fruits and veggies with an astounding 90 percent of families choosing to shop at their local farmer’s markets almost weekly.
With such an innovative, outstanding program clearly working, we at Wellness Warrior feel hopeful that the idea will catch on in more communities and cities across the country.
About Us via Wholesome Wave
Prescribing Vegetables, Not Pills via NYTimes
Read all articles by Juniper Briggs