Personal Health Columnist for the New York Times, Jane Brody tells us about a life-changing program that has helped people advocate for access to better food. It’s a simple idea that has helped many people deal with a complex problem…..
Alaijah Borden was 10 years old and significantly overweight when Dr. Sundari Periasamy, a pediatrician at Harlem Hospital Center in New York, enrolled the middle-schooler in an innovative program to increase her consumption of fruits and vegetables – and hopefully, to reduce her weight.
After two years in the program, Alaijah is an unqualified success story: She lost five pounds the first year by snacking on fruits and vegetables, then eight pounds more the second year, when she cut down on greasy foods.
“It’s really an awesome program that’s made it more affordable for me to get fruits and vegetables,” Ms. Brown, Alaijah’s mother said. “I told my daughter it’s better to be told you’re overweight and here’s the solution than to just be told you’re overweight and sent home.”
Mom too has benefited. Though not overweight, Ms. Brown loves to snack and had developed high blood pressure. She brought it under control without medication when, like her daughter, she switched her snacks to fruits and vegetables.
The Browns are among 50 low-income families with overweight or obese children enrolled in the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, or FVRx, at Harlem hospital Center. Three other hospitals in New York also have been testing the program.
The program was created by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that advocates for access to better food in low-income neighborhoods, in partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation.
Instead of drugs or admonishments to lose weight, which typically fall on deaf ears, doctors provide families in the FVRx program with a “prescription” to eat fruits and vegetables. The families are also given nutritional education, recipes and, most important of all, so-called Health Bucks that are redeemable for produce at a local farmer’s market – at twice the amount that the families could purchase with food stamps alone.
Participating farmers also benefit: They sell more produce, increasing their income on average nearly 37%. And they are able to hire more people, put more land in production, diversify crop plantings, and invest more in farm operations.
Most astonishing, perhaps, after just four months in the program 40% 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 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.