In an effort to increase access to healthy foods for New Yorkers at risk of obesity, the city launched a fruit and vegetable “prescription” program Tuesday.
The pilot program, FVRx, allows doctors and nutritionists to provide “prescriptions” for fruit and vegetables to patients and families at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx and Harlem Hospital.
“A food environment full of processed foods full of fat, sugar and salt is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement, calling the program a “creative approach” to help patients try to stay healthy.
Under the program, run by Wholsome Wave, patients at the two hospitals will receive coupons from the city that can be redeemed for fruit and vegetables at all 142 farmers markets citywide. Patients can renew their prescriptions monthly and get checkups or nutritional counseling.
Though Dr. Sharon Akabas, associate director of Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition, said the program was a great idea to help patients eat healthier, she said it’s not enough just to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We also have to say eat less of something else,” Akabas said.
“The assumption is that if people divert more money to healthy foods, they will spend less on higher-calorie foods,” she added, though the program would allow patients to get fresh produce for free.
Each hospital will try to enroll up to 70 patients to stay in the program for at least four months. Funded with a $250,000 grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, patients will receive a dollar a day in coupons for themselves and family members.
Noting that patients tend to look to physicians for advice, Akabas said all the city’s efforts to curb obesity add up over time.
“Each one of these things is a drop of water,” she said. “Over time, the more drops we can put in, the more effect it will have.”
Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders