December 10, 2010

Veggie Prescription

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As part of the Fruit and Veggie Rx pilot program, doctors prescribed coupons redeemable for fresh produce at farmers’ markets in addition to their patient’s regular medications. The results of the program’s effects on patient health will be released in February 2011.

“Take two and call me in the morning” is a common, if not dated, expression associated with doctors’ prescriptions. But what if the “two” were not pills or teaspoons of elixirs, but instead cups of spinach, servings of broccoli or apples? If the folks at Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization in Bridgeport, Conn., have their way, such prescriptions could soon be a reality in many medical offices—especially in pediatricians’ offices.

Perhaps best known for its Double Value Coupon Program—which, in 2008, began doubling the value of food stamps at farmers’ markets around the country—Wholesome Wave launched the Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program in summer 2010. Furthering its mission of “nourishing neighborhoods by supporting increased production and access to healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food for the well-being of all,” the goal of Fruit and Veggie Rx (as it’s being called) is to encourage women and children in low-income rural and urban areas to turn to fruits and vegetables before more conventional prescriptions.

“Like all of Wholesome Wave’s expanding efforts, Fruit and Veggie Rx is designed to simultaneously serve communities, farmers and consumers,” says Michel Nischan, president and CEO of Wholesome Wave. “Each dollar put into the Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program does more than just reinforce healthy, proactive eating habits. These prescriptions have the power to directly benefit small- and medium-scale farmers and to bring additional resources into the local economies of under-served urban and rural communities, two of Wholesome Wave’s most valued goals.”

For the 2010 pilot program, Wholesome Wave partnered with Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited, a corporate development group. They selected community health centers with obesity clinics in Massachusetts and Maine to write the fruit and veggie prescriptions to women and children in 100 families in addition to their regular doctor’s orders. The prescriptions were redeemable at partnering farmers’ markets.

Program participants were then monitored to see how increased consumption of fresh produce affected blood pressure, weight and body mass index, as well as blood-sugar levels in pre-diabetic patients and weight gain in pregnant women. While the analysis of the Fruit and Veggie Rx pilot program is not yet complete (a full analysis of the program should be available by February 2011), Juliette Storch, Wholesome Wave’s chief operating officer, says the participating families were excited to get their vegetables by prescription and most redeemed their scripts regularly.

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