In 2010, the nonprofit group, Wholesome Wave, piloted a prescription program, known as FVRx (Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program), in Massachusetts, Maine, California and Rhode Island to fight obesity among children, particularly targeting low-income families, who are limited in their exposure and access to a variety of healthy foods.
Instead of scribbling a prescription for pills, these physicians are writing out prescriptions for fruits and vegetable in the form of coupons valued at $1 per day per family member to be used at the local farmers’ market for purchase of fruits and vegetables. Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a physician at one of the program sites in Dorchester, told the New York Times in 2010, “A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more. The goal is get them to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables by one serving per day.”
The program idea was spawned as part of an effort to compete with the dollar menus offered by fast food restaurants – the source of many meals for struggling families. Through the program, not only will these families increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, but the local economy will benefit too.
The program has been so wildly successful in its efforts that it has expanded to seven states, including most recently, New York City. Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley launched the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, shifting the focus not only toward children, but to all overweight and obese patients. These “prescriptions” are better known as Health Bucks and have become part of the GrowNYC initiative, which strives to make locally grown produce available to low-income New Yorkers. Much like the Massachusetts program, patients are given Health Bucks valued at $1 per day per person in their household for a minimum of four months. During their time as part of the program, patients must check in at the hospital each month to monitor their body weight and BMI (body mass index), as well as receive a renewal of their prescription and nutritional counseling.
The program is continually collecting data and analyzing the outcomes of FVRx. The program ultimately seeks to prove that increased support and availability of healthy nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables, is the key to ending the obesity epidemic. As of 2012, the data has unveiled positively exciting results (cited from WholsomeWave.org):
FVRx participants realized positive health outcomes during the 4-6 month FVRx seasons:
- 55.3% of participants reported an increase in their fruit & vegetable consumption
- 37.8% of child participants decreased BMI
Shopping behaviors are changed and knowledge about local, healthy foods is improved:
- 53% of families came to the farmers market eight or more times during the FVRx season
For more information and to find out if there is a program near you, or to begin a program in your area, visit WholsomeWave.org.