Prescribing Vegetables, Not Pills To Combat Obesity In The Bronx – NY Times

Yvetta Fedorova

What happens when you prescribe fruits, veggies and all sorts of produce to Bronxites who are overweight instead of pills?  They lose weight.  At least that’s what one innovative program is showing right here in The Bronx at Lincoln Hospital — one of four city hospitals to participate in the $15 million, 5 year program funded by a grant from the Tisch Fund.

Obesity and childhood obesity is no stranger to New York City and in particular The Bronx where as of September 2013, a report issued by the New York State Senate indicated that The Bronx was the most overweight county in New York City with a rate of 68% (second only to Wayne County in upstate New York with an obesity rate of 71.7%).  Data from the CDC in 2011 indicated that Bronx High School students were the most overweight AND obese in the city with a combined rate of 31.7% for both categories.

Many factors contribute to this epidemic of obesity in our borough including the over-saturation of fast food restaurants where it is easier and often cheaper to grab a meal than it is to purchase fruits, veggies and produce to prepare your own healthy meals at home.

Here’s what the New York Times has to say regarding the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, otherwise known as FVRx:

“New York’s FVRx program operates in poor areas known as “food deserts,” where eating at places like McDonald’s is both cheaper and easier than purchasing fresh foods and preparing them at home.

“For people today with income shortages, getting good food like high-quality fruits and vegetables is a big problem,” said Michel Nischan, founder of Wholesome Wave, which supports the programs at community health centers.

Last year, two New York public hospitals — Harlem in Manhattan and Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx — tested this approach with 550 children and their families, through a five-year, $15 million grant from the Tisch fund. This year Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan offered the program to an additional 650 children and family members.

Each month, the young patients meet with their doctor or nutritionist to renew their FVRx, have their weight and body mass index evaluated, and get additional advice on how to achieve a healthy diet.

An analysis of last year’s results found that 97 percent of the children and 96 percent of their families ate more fruits and vegetables after joining the program. More than 90 percent of families shopped at farmers’ markets weekly or more than two or three times a month, and 70 percent understood more about the health value of fruits and vegetables.

Most astonishing, perhaps, after just four months in the program 40 percent of participating children lowered their B.M.I.

Dr. Periasamy said there is “so much enthusiasm for the program” among both the children and their families, all of whom benefit from the nutrition education and fresh produce. One child told her, “I tried a cucumber today, and it’s good, actually.” A grandmother who had been eating canned foods “all these years” said she is now happy to be eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

The hospital-based programs and accompanying farmers’ markets in New York ended last month. But competition and consumer enthusiasm have prompted nearby markets and bodegas to carry more and better produce and to price it more affordably, so that families with limited incomes can have year-round access, according to the program directors.

Ms. Brown froze some summer produce to use in cooking after the markets shut down for the season. And her daughter has developed a new enthusiasm.

“Alaijah had conversations with the farmers at the market and learned a lot about how things are grown and what’s in season,” Ms. Brown said. “Last summer she participated in a new community garden. She was excited by what was grown, because she knew what they were after going to the farmers’ market.”

The goal now, Laurie Tisch said in an interview, is to let other cities know that this approach works and is worth replicating on a larger scale.”

And that’s not the only good thing to come out of this.  Farmers also benefit from the increase in traffic and purchases at local farmers market:

“Participating farmers also benefit: They sell more produce, increasing their income on average nearly 37 percent. And they are able to hire more people, put more land in production, diversify crop plantings, and invest more in farm operations, Mr. Nischan said.”

While this may not be the only solution to both a local and national crisis, it definitely is one that we should be advocating for more and keep an eye on emerging studies of such programs.

Prescribing veggies and produce for obesity may indeed save this country billions.  In 2012, Reuters reported that obesity was costing our country $190 billion a year and that’s not counting other ailments which obesity contributes to such as cardiovascular disease which accounts for $444 billion in costs a year and $245 billion in costs for diabetes (Type 2 diabetes — which is preventable unlike Type 1 — accounts for roughly 90-95% of the total diabetic population).

More and more supermarkets have increased their offerings of produce, giving Bronxites more variety of fruits and vegetables yet their costs are still out of reach for the average Bronx resident.  Farmers Markets have increasingly become popular in our borough with more opening up each year.  These markets tend to be more affordable than the average supermarket and for those on food stamp benefits get $2 Health Bucks back for every $5 they spend at the market to purchase more healthy produce.

Unfortunately these markets are seasonal and do not last throughout the year.  Maybe the program can be expanded to supermarkets? Who knows. This is why we should support Tanya Field’s South Bronx Mobile Market.

Read more about the FVRx Program: Prescribing Vegetables, Not Pills –

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.