Produce prescription program increases access to fresh food

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Amy Saxe-Custack

Collaboration between pediatric clinics and local farmers’ markets, as demonstrated through a $10 prescription program for fresh fruits and vegetables, can increase access to fresh produce, according to research presented at Nutrition 2018.

“Nutrients in fruits and vegetables are critical for proper growth and development, as well as chronic disease prevention. Despite this, children eat fewer servings than recommended, particularly those living in low-income households,” Amy Saxe-Custack, PhD, MPH, RD, assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition and nutrition director at the Pediatric Public Health Initiative at Michigan State University, told Infectious Diseases in Children.

“Previous studies have shown that improving access to healthy foods appears to increase children’s healthier food choices,” she said. “Studies have also suggested that living in a food desert may be an important contributor to the increasing rate of obesity among youth in the U.S.”

To observe whether providing a fruit and vegetable prescription program to increase food shopping where fresh produce is regularly available, like a farmers’ market, Saxe-Cusack and colleagues relocated a pediatric training clinic in Flint, Michigan, to share space with the downtown farmers’ market. In September 2015, this clinic offered a $10 prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables that could be exchanged for produce at the market.

“The prescription program was designed to introduce kids to fresh, high-quality, locally grown produce early in their lives in an effort to establish healthy eating patterns early,” Saxe-Custack said. “Future research will specifically examine the impact of the prescription program on weight status and dietary patterns of participating children.”

Once data were collected from the caregivers of children treated at the clinic, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional study to examine the relationship between the use of the prescription program and shopping at the downtown farmers’ market.

Of the 157 caregivers included in the study, most were female (93%) and were between 25 and 34 years of age (58%). The majority of children seen at the clinic (nearly 65%) participated in the prescription program. Those who received a prescription for produce were more likely to receive assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (P < .001).

When compared with families who did not participate in the prescription program, caregivers of children who received a prescription through the program were significantly more likely to purchase fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market. Food security scores did not differ significantly between those who participated in the program (1.89 ± 2.06) and those who did not (1.83 ± 1.96).

“I would suggest that physicians who would like to initiate a similar program talk directly to patients and families about the importance of eating healthy, particularly with regard to consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Saxe-Custack said. “Additionally, our families also asked for recipes and cooking classes to assist with food preparation.” – by Katherine Bortz

Resource: Saxe-Custack A, et al. “Fruit and vegetable prescription programs for pediatric patients: Association with farmers’ market shopping.” Presented at: Nutrition 2018; June 9-12; Boston.

Disclosures: Saxe-Custack reports no relevant financial disclosures.

Photo of
Amy Saxe-Custack

Collaboration between pediatric clinics and local farmers’ markets, as demonstrated through a $10 prescription program for fresh fruits and vegetables, can increase access to fresh produce, according to research presented at Nutrition 2018.

“Nutrients in fruits and vegetables are critical for proper growth and development, as well as chronic disease prevention. Despite this, children eat fewer servings than recommended, particularly those living in low-income households,” Amy Saxe-Custack, PhD, MPH, RD, assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition and nutrition director at the Pediatric Public Health Initiative at Michigan State University, told Infectious Diseases in Children.

“Previous studies have shown that improving access to healthy foods appears to increase children’s healthier food choices,” she said. “Studies have also suggested that living in a food desert may be an important contributor to the increasing rate of obesity among youth in the U.S.”

To observe whether providing a fruit and vegetable prescription program to increase food shopping where fresh produce is regularly available, like a farmers’ market, Saxe-Cusack and colleagues relocated a pediatric training clinic in Flint, Michigan, to share space with the downtown farmers’ market. In September 2015, this clinic offered a $10 prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables that could be exchanged for produce at the market.

“The prescription program was designed to introduce kids to fresh, high-quality, locally grown produce early in their lives in an effort to establish healthy eating patterns early,” Saxe-Custack said. “Future research will specifically examine the impact of the prescription program on weight status and dietary patterns of participating children.”

Once data were collected from the caregivers of children treated at the clinic, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional study to examine the relationship between the use of the prescription program and shopping at the downtown farmers’ market.

Of the 157 caregivers included in the study, most were female (93%) and were between 25 and 34 years of age (58%). The majority of children seen at the clinic (nearly 65%) participated in the prescription program. Those who received a prescription for produce were more likely to receive assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (P < .001).

When compared with families who did not participate in the prescription program, caregivers of children who received a prescription through the program were significantly more likely to purchase fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market. Food security scores did not differ significantly between those who participated in the program (1.89 ± 2.06) and those who did not (1.83 ± 1.96).

“I would suggest that physicians who would like to initiate a similar program talk directly to patients and families about the importance of eating healthy, particularly with regard to consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Saxe-Custack said. “Additionally, our families also asked for recipes and cooking classes to assist with food preparation.” – by Katherine Bortz

Resource: Saxe-Custack A, et al. “Fruit and vegetable prescription programs for pediatric patients: Association with farmers’ market shopping.” Presented at: Nutrition 2018; June 9-12; Boston.

Disclosures: Saxe-Custack reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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