Innovative food programs help low income families improve their diets and lose weight

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623545_52687286We ve all heard it before many times Eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy, balanced diet. But what if you can t? What if you live in a so-called food desert where really fresh produce is not to be found? And even if it were around, you couldn t afford it? An innovative program at New York City s Harlem Hospital Center tried to address these issues, as described by Jane Brody in the New York Times.

Fifty families with overweight children were enrolled in the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx). These families received Health Bucks , vouchers that they could redeem for produce at a local farmers market. In addition, they were given nutrition education and recipes to use with their purchases. And participating farmers got reimbursed for the full value of their produce.

Last year, according to Brody, both Harlem Hospital and Lincoln Medical Center expanded this approach to 550 families. The program involves the children in monthly meetings with their doctor or nutritionist to renew their Health Bucks, receive additional advice, and have their BMIs assessed.

Of the participants in last year s program, 97 percent of the kids and 96 percent of the families ate more fruits and vegetables. In addition, over 90 percent of the families shopped at farmers markets more than two or three times per month. Most encouraging perhaps, is that within 4 months of entering the program, 40 percent of the children had decreased their BMI.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava had this to say: If we are ever to have a real impact on the obesity problem especially in lower income individuals then innovative programs such as this FVRx one are essential. Such programs give low income families a chance to try new fruits and vegetables, and experiment with different ways of preparing them, an option they likely would not have had in the past. And in addition, she continued, they give people a chance to break out of perhaps less healthy ways of eating, and encourage children to establish healthful preferences.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, These results are very encouraging and show that education combined with a healthy eating prescription can have positive effects on fruit and vegetable consumption as well as weight loss. Future studies should focus on the sustainability of these habits, following the participants once they are no longer enrolled in the program.