What If Doctors Prescribed Produce, Not Pills?

Nov 18, 2016

In programs in other states, participants can redeem their vouchers at farmers' markets and grocery stores.
Credit gmtbillings / Flickr

Healthy food advocates and nutritionists in the Southern Tier want to try a program where doctors prescribe fruits and vegetables to their patients who have low incomes.

Leaders from VINES, Lourdes Hospital and the Food and Health Network of South Central, among others, met Thursday to consider the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program.

Under the program, doctors actually write a prescription for a voucher for fresh produce. Then, the patient takes the voucher to a participating farm stand or grocery store. It would be worth about a dollar per family member per day.

Catherine Rogers, member of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier Speakers' Bureau, has dealt with food insecurity and said this program would have helped her when she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

“I was encouraged by my doctors to eat better, to get better food, and the problem was I couldn’t afford it. We just didn’t have the money,” said Rogers.

Many people on low incomes deal with similar issues. Some people were concerned people might have difficulty accessing the food stands and grocery stores and training on how to keep, prep and store fresh produce.

Plans to implement the program in the Southern Tier are just starting, but Cynthia Cave-Gaetani, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Lourdes Hospital, said she likes the idea.

“I think we’re on the fringe of something really exciting that really helps support a much healthier community," said Cave-Gaetani.

The national program is already underway in parts of New York City, Washington, D.C., the Navajo Nation and ten states. In those areas, participants lowered their body mass indexes and reported eating more fruits and vegetables.