Prescription Produce Address Obesity Problems

In a study by Health Affairs, the cost of childhood obesity in the United States is $14.1 billion annually in direct health expenses like prescription drugs and visits to doctors and emergency rooms while treating obesity-related illness in adults costs an estimated $147 billion annually.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away and happy.
In an effort to fight obesity, doctors in Massachusetts are advising patients to eat "prescription produce" from local farmer's markets with $1 coupons for any member of the patients' family.
“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 Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, “The goal is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day.”
While doctors hope that patients will become healthier as a result of a more natural diet, farmers hope that the healthy movement will be a boon to their business. According to the United States Agriculture Department, farmers' markets generate more than $1 billion in sales annually.

Thomas Menino
Thomas M. 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. Massachusetts was one of the first states to promote farmers' markets as vital to preventive health. In the 1980s the state began issuing coupons for farmers’ markets to low-income women who were pregnant or breast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment. Now, 36 states have such farmers’ market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children. 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. Recently, Menino has appointed a well-known chef as food policy director to promote local foods in schools and market gardens in the city.
“Can we help people in low-income areas, who shop in the center of supermarkets for low-cost empty-calorie food, to shop at farmers’ markets by making fruit and vegetables more affordable?” said Gus Schumacher, the chairman of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit group in Bridgeport, Conn.
Doctors will track participants to determine how the program affects their eating patterns and to monitor their health indicators like weight and body mass index. The pilot project plans to enroll up to 50 families in health centres that already have specialized children's programs called healthy weight clinics. The program is to run until the end of the farmers’ market season in late fall.
“When I go to work in the morning, I see kids standing at the bus stop eating chips and drinking a soda. I hope this will help them change their eating habits and lead to a healthier lifestyle.” - Thomas Menino, Mayor of Boston
Some nutrition researchers hope that the Massachusetts project has a good chance of improving eating habits in the short term. But, they added, a vegetable prescription program in isolation may not have a long-term influence on reducing obesity. Families may revert to their former habits in the winter when the farmers’ markets are closed, these researchers said, or they may not be able to afford fresh produce after the voucher program ends. Unless people curtail excessive consumption of salty and sugary snacks behavioral changes like eating more fruit and vegetables will have limited effect on obesity. In a recent study, people in southern Louisiana typically exceeded guidelines for eating salty and sugary foods by 120 percent in the course of a day. Early feedback have been positive. Leslie-Ann Ogiste, a certified nursing assistant in Boston, and her 9-year-old son, Makael Constance have lost a combined four pounds in one month. As Ms. Ogiste and her son started shopping at the farmers’ market and eating more fresh produce they also cut back on junk food, she said.
“We have stopped the snacks. We are drinking more water and less soda and less juice too,” Ms. Ogiste said. “All of that helped.”

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