Opinion: Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions - A Key to Improve Florida Health

3 Dec 2019 8:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

Bright orange plastic bottles of uniform pills wrapped in a white printed label epitomizes the marvels of modern medicine, yet are a modern disconnect from nature’s bounty. However, that may be changing.

Produce is finally joining pills as a prescription option. While not yet widespread in Florida, fruit and vegetable prescriptions are now the doctors orders in certain markets.

One such example, Wholesome Wave, is making it possible for at-risk consumers to exchange healthcare provider-generated "prescriptions" for local fresh fruit and vegetables at participating farmers' markets and stores through the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program.

Courtesy of WholesomeWave.org

According to Wholesome Wave’s website, “Since 2010, we’ve partnered with doctors to provide patients with innovative fruit and vegetable prescriptions. Participating providers enroll patients into the program for 4-5 months at a time. Doctors and nutritionists provide up to $1/day per household member in produce prescriptions, which can be redeemed for fresh produce at participating markets and grocery stores.”

Since its 2010 inception in New England,WholesomeRx has grown across the country, specifically benefiting those living in medically underserved areas and food deserts, accounting for 32 million Americans. This priority population can gain immense support with a $1/day voucher toward produce.

In Florida, food deserts and hunger impact over 3 million people, despite Florida’s abundance of agricultural commodities. Using food as medicine in these areas could decrease that number exponentially. WholesomeRx is already available in the Tampa Bay Area, a region with 19% of the population impacted by food insecurity."

The goal of the program in Tampa was, “to reach more than 2000 seniors 60 years and older with a $15 reloadable gift card to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.” In early April,  the program a milestone of “successfully registering all 2000+ participants—distributing more than $30,000 worth of ‘produce purchasing power’” was reached and by the end of the program, they will have “delivered nearly $250,000!” Participants also received advice and literature from professionals, compounding the success of the program. It has not yet expanded beyond Tampa and Tallahassee in Florida, but the potential is evident.

Courtesy of WholesomeWave.org

Ten years later, the benefits of produce Rx programs, such as Wholesome Wave's, extend far beyond lower obesity and chronic disease rates. Local economies are also boosted as vouchers stay local, creating a whole new avenue where farmers to sell and incentivizes both farmers and consumers to grow and eat healthy produce, according to CDC studies and various research findings. Other programs like this can start popping up if given the proper support.

In order to create and sustain produce Rx programs, close health disparities, lift farmers, and overall enhance the connection between health and food, we have a responsibility to support these initiatives for Florida and beyond as advocates of a just food and healthcare system. And to be successful, we have to encourage buy-in from our partners in food and health in order to participate and sustain fruit and vegetable prescription programs. With this, Florida’s bounty can become even more beautiful.

Rachel Ram is a health educator, policy advocate, adventurer, and overall foodie. Rachel earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Education, Community Health and Preventive Medicine from the University of Florida in 2017. A lifetime resident of south Florida, she now resides in Brooklyn NY working for the American Lung Association. She began her work with the Florida Food Policy Council in 2016 and continues to raise awareness on food policy issues. Besides engaging in food policy, Rachel enjoys traveling, hiking, yoga, cooking and reading.

Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

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