By Matt Rozsa
When you’re sick and need to take medication, you get a prescription. But what ever happened to that idea by Hippocrates to “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food?”
That’s the idea in Seattle, where the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic has teamed up with Harborview Medical Center and King County farmers markets with a clever idea to reduce diet-related diseases. Health care providers can now prescribe fruits and vegetables to their patients by writing vouchers for them.You don’t need insurance to get this “prescription” — just a doctor’s recommendation. The patients can then redeem those vouchers at farmers markets or farm stands, making nutritious, healthy food more accessible.
There is good reason to think this will work. When Detroit embarked on a similar program back in 2013, it reported a 93 percent success rate. Granted, it was on a much smaller scale, with only 48 participants who stayed on the fruit-and-vegetable prescription program that lasted for four months. That said, it was also very thorough and smart — each patient was allowed to purchase up to $40 worth of fruits and vegetables that were grown locally, averaging out to $10 each week. Because poor diets are born as much of bad habits as the bad foods themselves, the Detroit residents also received nutritional counseling and healthy cooking demonstrations so that they could use these ingredients in the most effective possible way.
Washtenaw County, which is also in Michigan, has a similar program. As long as a doctor determines that their patient is at risk for a food-related disease, the patient can attend a group enrollment visit and receive prescriptions for fruits and vegetables worth $100. These are spread out over 10 visits ($10 in tokens each) and, like in Detroit, program staff will provide information and support to facilitate the transition into healthy eating habits.
We love how Seattle and these other cities are reminding us of forgotten ancient wisdom of food being our medicine, and how they are helping institutionalize the change towards healthier food by working within the current health care system.