We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults eats enough fruits and vegetables every day. Poor diet is the leading cause of illness in the United States and is associated with more than a half-million deaths annually. On average, that’s more than 40,000 deaths each month.

Much of the problem is exacerbated by the fact that many groups have limited access to affordable, healthy food. These groups include people living in rural areas, tribal communities, people with disabilities and neighborhoods where most residents have lower incomes. It can also include those living on modest, fixed incomes, like retirees.

One evidence-based public health strategy has been shown to improve consumption of fruits and vegetables, and has subsequently demonstrated strong correlations to an improvement in overall health: produce prescription programs.

What Are Produce Prescription Programs?

Produce prescription programs are exactly what they sound like: A doctor writes a script for more fruits and veggies, which in turn grants the patient access to greater availability to produce through various means.

In one study released in August 2023, participants across the country were given $63 per month to purchase fresh produce at grocery stores or farmers markets over the course of several months. Surveys assessed their fruit and vegetable intake, food security and self-reported health, and clinics measured their blood sugar, blood pressure and body mass index. 

The results were satisfying. Adults reported that their intake of fruits and vegetables increased by nearly one cup per day. Their average blood pressure decreased by several points, as did blood sugar measurements, and their BMIs significantly improved. 

In a separate study conducted a few years earlier, researchers combined prescription programs for local produce at a farmers market with direct nutrition education. These results were even better, with participants reporting improved health along with an overall positive change in their purchasing and preparation of produce. 

How Do They Work?

Typically, the programs enable participating doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables, which patients “fill” for an electronic card or vouchers. These cards or vouchers can be used at retail grocery stores or farmers markets, granting patients free or discounted produce of their choice.

This paves the way for people to make healthier choices when buying their food, but it can also have an impact on much more.

“We know that food insecurity impacts health through several important pathways, including overall dietary quality, but also through stress and anxiety, mental health and trade-offs between paying for food and other basic needs such as housing costs, utilities and medications,” said Kurt Hager, a nutrition researcher. 

Do I Qualify For a Prescription?

If you’re living in the Capital Region, you’re in luck. Capital Roots, a nonprofit founded in 1975, is helping people gain access to more fruits and vegetables. They’ve partnered with Whitney Young Health to create the Veggie Rx program, providing nutritionists who help connect patients with chronic health conditions to the fresh food program. 

Through Veggie Rx, patients receive coupon books containing 12 $7 coupons, which they can redeem for fresh food on board a traveling market called the Veggie Mobile. Coupons are also good on a mini version, the Veggie Mobile Sprout, which the program uses to better navigate inner-city traffic. Since the program began, nearly 88% of all coupons distributed have been redeemed. The Veggie Mobiles make 35 stops across the Capital Region, so there’s a good chance it stops in or near your neighborhood.

Top image by MillefloreImages from Getty Images, via Canva.com

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