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A New Approach to Obesity: Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions

July 25, 2013

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It’s no secret that diet-related diseases such as obesity and heart disease are on the rise in America. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is almost fully to blame. Processed products and fast food are the most easily accessible and affordable meal options and account for most of what Americans eat.

The most effective way to treat diet-related illnesses is changing a person’s diet and lifestyle. More “real food” like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains need to be consumed. People need to live a more active lifestyle and get more exercise.

Sadly, a healthy diet and more exercise is not usually what doctors prescribe to their patients. Instead, people are given prescriptions that help them to manage the symptoms of their disease instead of actually improving it. Maintaining health with prescription medication allows people to make little to no changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Fortunately, it seems that the era of prescription medications is about to change. According to CBS News, two hospitals in the New York City area have joined a national program that allows doctors to prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables to their patients who suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or any otherwise chronic illness that can be treated with diet change.

High-risk, low-income patients are given “Health Bucks,” a $2 voucher for each member of their family every week that can be used at farmers markets in the area. For example, if you have a family of five, you will receive $10 in vouchers each week to buy fresh produce. This program is revolutionary, since many of the families that will be receiving the vouchers live in areas where fresh produce is more expensive or harder to find than fast food. For most, fast food and unhealthy, processed grocery items are the most affordable food source.

The program is being released at Harlem Hospital and Lincoln Medical Center for 70 families. In addition to the fresh produce vouchers, doctors will also be prescribing exercise, making this program a completely new and hopeful approach to the obesity epidemic.

The program has already been successfully implemented in hospitals in eight other states, and New York City health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley has high hopes for success in New York City. He says, "The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program is a creative approach that, with the inclusion of Health Bucks, will enable at-risk patients to visit any of our 142 Farmers Markets and purchase the fruits and vegetables that will help them stay healthy."

How do you feel about this new approach to health care?