Beginning this year, New York City doctors will be able to prescribe fruits and vegetables to patients who are suffering from or at risk of obesity and other diet-related illnesses. The City announced its plans to implement the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, or FVRx. The program is offered by Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit organization that supports small-scale, local agriculture and works to make locally grown produce available to people at all income levels. FVRx partners healthcare providers with local farmers markets in the effort to battle diet-related illnesses and promote the local agricultural economy. Wholesome Wave will partner with New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) to implement the program.
Patients enrolled in the program will receive a monthly script of US$1 per day for each member of his or her family–this means that a family of four people would receive US$28 for a week of fruits and vegetables. The script is redeemable for produce purchased at the local farmers market. Program participants meet with their healthcare provider on a monthly basis for health assessments, prescription renewal, and to set new goals based on their progress within the program. Children and pregnant women are eligible for enrollment in the program.
The spread of obesity is a growing concern in New York City. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, “more than half of adult New Yorkers are overweight (34 percent) or obese (22 percent),” and “one in five kindergarten students, and one in four Head Start children, is obese.” The City has launched a number of efforts to counteract this trend, including its implementation of the FVRx program, which has proven effective in improving community health in other cities in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and California. Pilot FVRx programs were launched in cities in these states in 2011.
According to the FVRx 2012 Outcomes sheet, the effect of the program included improved patient health and higher food literacy. In 2012, FVRx programs showed a decrease in Body Mass Index for almost 40 percent of child participants and an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in 55 percent of program participants. Wholesome Wave also reports, “participants increased knowledge about their neighborhood farmers markets, where to buy locally grown produce, and the importance of fruits and vegetables in their diets.”
The FVRx program is well-suited for a city like New York, where there are 138 farmers markets within the city’s boundaries, according to an August 2012 report by the state of New York. “Each dollar invested in Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program nourishes public hospital patients and their families, boosts revenue at farmers markets, and supports overall community health,” Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs stated in the July 24th announcement. The program is being funded by a US$250,000 grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
“We are incredibly excited and honored to be partnering with HHC and incredibly grateful to the Illumination Fund for helping us expand this innovative program,” Wholesome Wave CEO and founder Michel Nischan said. “Through these FVRx pilots, we hope we can demonstrate how community partnerships with private philanthropy, health care providers, city food policy councils, and the farmers who grow local, fresh, healthy food can help improve health and reduce overall health care costs.”