Could a $2 coupon, redeemable at any of 142 farmers markets across New York City, help in the fight against obesity? Doctors at two NYC hospitals hope so, and they will soon start giving their patients these so-called “Health Bucks.” If the program works by helping people lose weight, it could expand to other neighborhoods.
Recognizing that at least 1 in 4 adults in New York City is obese, Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year sought to put in place a ban on large sugary drinks. Bloomberg proposed vetoing any sweetened drink that is 16 fluid ounces (equivalent to a medium-sized cup of coffee and smaller than the average soda bottle) or more. The ban included sugary drinks – such as soda, energy drinks and pre-sweetened iced tea – whether served in delis, fast-food restaurants or sports arenas. This ban, however, is currently delayed and may never be implemented.
So will Health Bucks fare any better? There’s every reason to hope so.
The program is part of a national campaign to help doctors change the eating habits of their patients, and it will focus on low-income, high-risk patients who desperately need to change their diet. The program will launch at Harlem Hospital and Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx.
It’s pretty simple: once patients start receiving their bucks to buy fruits and veggies, they will be monitored over the course of four months by their doctor, who will evaluate their weight and body mass index, as well as provide counseling on healthy eating.
“Each dollar invested in Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program nourishes public hospital patients and their families, boosts revenue at farmers markets, and supports overall community health,” Deputy Mayor Gibbs said at a press conference. “Farmers markets support the City’s efforts to keep communities fit by providing healthy and affordable dietary options in a localized setting.”
Actually, in the interests of healthy living and eating, why not offer food bucks to everyone who wants them? Another thought: why not offer cooking classes, so people know what to do with their fresh veggies?
In the push to fight obesity, doctors around the country have also started offering “Prescriptions for Health,” which may include a trail map of the local park, a free entrance to a national or state park, or a coupon for the local gym.
A few years ago, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health insurance plans, began urging its Southern California doctors to ask patients about exercise. Since then, the program has expanded across California and to several other states, reaching almost 9 million patients.
SFGate explains how it works:
During any routine check of vital signs, a nurse or medical assistant asks how many days a week the patient exercises and for how long. The number of minutes per week is posted along with other vitals at the top the medical chart. So it’s among the first things the doctor sees.
An “Rx for Fitness” focuses on children, where obesity rates are even higher: 1 in 3 kids in the U.S. is obese.
Parents taking their children for a check-up in Georgia, for example, may be in for a surprise. If the physician’s assistant thinks your child needs more exercise, she may prescribe healthy hikes in the great outdoors; she’ll give you a prescription that you can trade in for free park passes. And the idea is spreading across the U.S.
Let’s hope New York City’s plan also becomes a fixture and spreads across the nation.
Phoro Credit: Thinkstock