Briefing Highlights Success of Produce Prescriptions, Which Pingree Bill Would Expand
At the Capitol today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) hosted a briefing on produce prescription programs, an element of the food is medicine movement that is proving effective at improving people’s diets and health outcomes by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Launching a national produce prescription pilot program called Harvesting Health is one provision of HR 3491, the Local FARMS Act, a bipartisan bill Pingree has introduced with Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Patrick Maloney (D-NY) to increase consumer access to healthy food in the Farm Bill.
“Everyone knows that eating enough fruits and vegetables can help keep us healthy—but our food system hasn’t gotten the message. The least expensive foods are the least healthy for us and that’s leading to obesity, heart disease, and other health conditions that cost our country billions of dollars every year,” Pingree said. “A simple idea is helping change that bit by bit—having doctors write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables and offering vouchers to help their patients purchase them. The results so far have been very encouraging, and I think we need to see what would happen if we ran this initiative on a larger scale.”
Pingree was joined at the briefing by Michel Nischan, CEO of Wholesome Wave, which run its Fruits and Vegetables Prescription (FVRx) Program at 34 sites across the country. It works with healthcare providers and public health promoters to write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables, and with retailers to unlock affordability for the families that need it most. According to the organization, nearly all participants (93%) met their fruit and vegetable recommendations by the end of the program, nearly half (47%) decreased their BMI, and 45% reported increased food security.
“Doctors tell us that when they can prescribe produce, patients go from eating no fruits and vegetables at all, to eating several servings every day. And over time, that can turn their health around,” said Nischan. “If this provision passes, we could very well see the day where all Americans, regardless of income, can exercise their right to choose healthier food for their families, and take part in eating our way out of the national debt. Wouldn’t that be delicious?”
At the hearing, Karen Landry, Executive Director of War on Poverty—Florida, highlighted the success of one such program at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami. The program is not only helping improving individual eating habits, but those of entire families, she said.
And Kristy Anderson, Senior Government Relations Advisor at the American Heart Association, spoke about how increased access to fresh produce can help address diet-related diseases that are the highest causes of death in the nation.
“Encouraging and making it easier for Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables is critical to improving their health. This is especially true when it comes to vulnerable and underserved populations,” said Anderson. “Prescriptions for healthy foods from a health care provider are a way to improve access and health. Launching a pilot that would help us study fruit and vegetable prescription projects is essential for understanding their impact on the health of patients.”