FVRx Program: Can a "Prescription" Of Fruits and Veggies Stop the Obesity Crisis?

Take two of these apples and call me in the morning. 

A promising new program in New York City has doctors prescribing fruits and vegetables to obese or overweight patients and families to tackle the obesity epidemic. 

The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx), launched by Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Healthy Commissioner Thomas Farley on Tuesday, aims to give at-risk families greater access to healthy foods.

"This is probably going to prevent an awful lot of disease in the long term than the medicines we tend to write prescriptions for," Farley said outside Lincoln Medical Center.

Farley also said that about one in 10 New Yorkers don’t eat any fruits or vegetables in a given day. In the Bronx, however, it is five in 10 adults.

As part of the city's GrowNYC initiative to make locally grown produce available to low-income New Yorkers, obese or overweight patients can be prescribed Health Bucks which are redeemable at more than 140 New York City farmers markets.

Funded with a $250,000 grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, patients within the program receive $1 in Health Bucks per day for each person in their family for at least four months. During that period, patients can renew their prescriptions every month and get checkups or nutritional counseling.

According to resident Tammy Futch, who lives in the Patterson Houses in Mott Haven, the program has been a huge success for her 11-year old son Ty-J. 

"My son lost 20 pounds," said Futch to the New York Daily News. "He was one that never ate vegetables. He used to be a McDonald’s baby."

His fast-food favorites were soon replaced with healthy foods from beets and corn to strawberries and avocados.

The pilot program was first started by Wholesome Wave, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that connects low-income people with fresh farm foods, and has now expanded to seven states. 

Harlem Hospital Center and Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx became the first New York State facilities to participate in the program this summer. Both feature on-site markets as well. 

"We're not only teaching them just about eating healthy," said Dr. Shefali Khanna, chief of pediatrics at Lincoln Medical Center. "This is really an investment for the future. And we hope we have a whole generation of kids who benefit from this, and reaches adulthood at a healthy optimal weight."

The battle to prevent and reverse the America's growing obesity epidemic has gained momentum in recent years. 

The American Medical Association recently changed obesity's status from "a major public healthy problem" to a chronic disease, in part to convince insurance companies to better fund obesity treatment programs. 

According to public health experts, preventative measures such as nutritional programs and increased awareness of obesity's health consequences are among the best ways to tackle the issue. Between 2011 and 2012, the adult obesity rate increased by just 0.2%, the slowest rise in a decade.

Hopefully, it won't be long before other doctors around the nation follow suit and participate in the program that so far has seen positive results especially in children.

As practicing physician and best-selling author, Dr. Mark Hyman best put it: "We ate our way into this mess, and we must eat our way out."

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Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Hyacinth is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. Her interests include cultural, social and political trends in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as human rights issues across the globe.

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