‘Prescription Produce' Seeks To Fight Childhood Obesity
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14 August 2010
By Natasha Singer
The farm stand is becoming the new apothecary, dispensing apples – not to mention artichokes, asparagus and arugula – to fill a novel kind of prescription.
Doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat "prescription produce" from local farmers’ markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families. Now they will give coupons amounting to $1 a day for each member of a patient’s family to promote healthy meals.
"A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more," said Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, one of the program sites. "The goal is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day."
The effort may also help farmers’ markets compete with fast-food restaurants selling dollar value meals. Farmers’ markets do more than $1 billion in annual sales in the US, according to the Agriculture Department.
Massachusetts was one of the first states to promote these markets as hubs of preventive health. In the 1980s, for example, the state began issuing coupons for farmers’ markets to lowincome women who were pregnant or breast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment. Thirty-six states now have such farmers’ market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children.
Thomas Menino, the mayor of Boston, said he believed the new children’s program, in which doctors write vegetable "prescriptions" to be filled at farmers’ markets, was the first of its kind. Doctors will track participants to determine how the program affects their eating patterns and to monitor health indicators like weight and body mass index, he said.
Although obesity is a complex problem unlikely to be solved just by eating more vegetables, supporters of the veggie voucher program hope that physician intervention will spur young people to adopt the kind of behavioral changes that can help forestall lifelong obesity. NYT NEWS SERVICE