New York City today announced a new initiative to tackle obesity and other health factors in the City: The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx). According to the press release:
“The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, under which a doctor and nutritionist assess the health and nutritional habits of patients and families at risk for obesity and provide “prescriptions” to consume more fruits and vegetables is being brought to New York City for the first time in a pilot program at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx and Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan.
The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx) is a nationally-recognized program by Wholesome Wave under which these doctors and nutritionists assess the health and nutritional habits of patients and families at risk for obesity and give patients “prescriptions” to consume more fruits and vegetables. FVRx patients at the two hospitals will then receive Health Bucks, which are coupons from the Human Resources Administration and the Health Department that can be redeemed for fruit and vegetables at all New York City farmers markets.
Patients return to the hospital monthly to meet with their doctor, renew their fruit and vegetable prescriptions, have their weight and body mass index (BMI) evaluated, and receive nutritional counseling leading to self-management goals for healthy eating. Each hospital will attempt to enroll up to 70 patients who will remain in the program for at least four months.”
The FVRx program has shown successful results in other cities nation wise, suggesting that participants improve their consumption of, and knowledge about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and where they can find them locally. Since NYC has the largest Farmer’s Market SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) incentive program in the nation, this pilot is indeed a good match for the city. Farmer’s Markets offer improved access to healthier foods often unavailable in urban environments, promote local commerce and economies, and are a great source of education. By changing the perception of these markets from upper class means of showing how we ‘keep green’ to that of ‘pharmacy’ it is possibly that their benefits, and business, can become expanded.
I see two pitfalls with this program. First, it targets lower-income individuals specifically. Although they are the most at need for improved access to health foods due to coding restrictions that deny large supermarkets with product sections in their areas, and because of the cost of foods (especially in urban environments) programs that often target these populations fizzle out quickly and are hard to maintain. It is not a lack of interest in participation, so much as a policy strategy that denies a systematic approach which addresses the whole society. Changing one section of society necessitates a change across levels, and the most beneficial programs approach change in this manner. Secondly, tracking Body Mass Index as a key factor in improved health has proven to be a faulty technique. Gone are the years where BMI was seen as an indicator of optimal health in and of itself, but at least other factors are also being tracked.
However, these flaws don’t outweigh the benefits this program is likely to produce. Overall it sounds like this program will be beneficial to not only the participants it targets, but also overall community health and commerce. In addition to the FVRx program, NYC is also rolling out a Children’s education program, “Come See What’s Cookin'”, at their Farmer’s Markets, as well as expanding their Health Bucks program to offer more coupons to more lower income individuals.
By Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW
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