Doctors Write ‘Prescriptions’ For Healthy Fruits And Vegetables

A woman sampled veggies at a farmers market at Boston's City Hall Plaza on Aug. 4. (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources)

A woman sampled veggies at a farmers market at Boston's City Hall Plaza on Aug. 4. (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources)

BOSTON — A team of doctors and other health professionals in Massachusetts is trying to give a boost to healthy eating by writing “prescriptions” for free fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets.

The program hopes to spur families that normally can’t afford fresh produce to include fruits and vegetables as part of a healthier lifestyle, according to Dr. Shikha Anand, the program’s organizer.

“The goal really is to increase consumption,” Anand said. “To increase availability of fruits and vegetables in low income neighborhoods, and consumption of those within the low income neighborhoods. A lot of our families don’t really have the means to purchase fresh produce, so we’re really taking away the barriers to access.”

The initiative is part of a $20,000 pilot program at three Massachusetts health centers: the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center and the Holyoke Health Center.

The program is simple. At the clinics, families seeking to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet are given prescriptions in the form of vouchers they can exchange for fresh produce at local farmers’ markets.

With their vouchers, families can select from among products available at their local farmer’s market.

“There are over 200 sites and basically it works like cash,” Anand said. “But it can only be redeemed for fruits and vegetables, so it’s not just any item at a farmer’s market.”

Anand said many families need more than just the cash for good produce — they need guidance in integrating it into their diets. “We have a registered dietician who’s involved with the administration process at every site and they help the families sort out how to make the stuff that’s available at the farmer’s market,” Anand said.

Anand hopes the program will be a boon to families — and farmers, too.

“Our hope is that (the farmer’s markets) will see an increase in volume and that will help boost the local economy,” Anand said.

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  • John

    I wouldn’t buy fruit and vegetables at Haymarket. The whole market reeks of spoiled fish.

  • Kristen Goodell

    What a terrific program! I am a family physician in Medford, and this past Saturday I was thrilled to run into a patient of mine at a local farmer’s market toting bags of egglplant, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh corn. It’s working for him, too – He is improving his diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol and has lost 45lbs!! Re-introducing fresh, local produce to people is a major step towards combatting the unhealthy lifestyles to which we’ve all become accustomed.

  • Kristin

    This is great! We need more of this type of thinking in health care to bring access to healthy foods to the families that need it most!

  • http://www.committeeforahealthynation.org Pamela Schoenfeld RD

    Sounds like a good attempt to improve their diets. But aren’t these doctors and this RD in effect sending the message that foods like meat, eggs, and dairy are not healthy as they don’t get vouchers to purchase those types of foods? Man cannot live on fruits and vegetables alone, at least not well. High quality animal protein from real pastured raised animals is just as important as fruits and vegetables for good health. Even if you are a vegetarian, in which case you can eat cheese and/or eggs. The science doesn’t say that one must only eat plants to be healthy.

  • http://sunnydayfitness.com Sunny

    Sounds like a step in the right direction! Fruit/Veg vouches should be usable at all farmer’s markets sooner rather than later. Many already accept WIC and stamps.

    And yeah, Haymarket has some stinky fishmongers, but who hasn’t smelled an over-ripened tomato or two in this heat? It’s all part of the “experience” at Haymarket. They still have great deal on wholesale (not farm fresh, but still healthy) veggies and fruits. 3lbs. of bananas for $1 — who can beat it?

  • Col

    Meat, eggs, and dairy are not necessary, and there are certainly unhealthy amounts and versions of these; fruits and vegetables simply aren’t, so this seems like a great move. Typically, when we hear that people have bad nutrition or are overweight, living in poorer areas, perhaps, one stumbling block for them is the lack of access to good produce–either because of geography or cost. This addresses the latter directly.

    And I’ve been living healthily as a vegan for over 20 years–we don’t HAVE to have animal protein to be in good health.

  • David Schwartz, RD

    In Response to Pamela, RD. In general, most Americans get plenty of high quality protein already from meat, dairy and eggs. However, they are typically lacking in the fruit and vegetable food groups. This is a fantastic program to encourage fruit and veggie consumption and help re-establish our local food infrastructure. Spread this program across the states!

  • Sharon

    This is awesome. One of the big problems with American health is our poor diet, which is worsened by fad diets, binging, diet pills, caffeine (which flushes nutrients out of our bodies), fruits/veggies grown with herbicides/pesticides and also those grown on over-farmed land (which creates poorer nutritional value in produce). Not only do we eat too much fast-food and over-processed food, but we go far too light on the real veggies and fruits. A farmer’s market is perfect fare for undernourished poor people. What a great idea. Like the nutritionist part, too, as it’s not always obvious how to cook things or even what they are.

    God Bless,

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