Prescription medicine usually comes in pill bottles, but in some parts of the United States, foods like artichokes, beets, spinach, and apples have also become part of the doctor’s arsenal.
According to the New York Times, “doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat ‘prescription produce’ from local farmers’ markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families.”
Reports from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion state that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Experts point to increasingly sedentary lifestyles and lack of access to fresh, healthy foods as a reason for this rapid increase.
By giving farmers’ market coupons to patients’ families, Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester hopes to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by at least one serving a day.
Although farmers’ markets in the United States have over $1 billion in annual revenue, they still pale in comparison to the fast food industry, which raked in over $22.79 billion in 2008 alone.
According to the USDA National Farmers Market Directory, the number of farmers markets has exploded — from 1,755 in 1994, to more than 5,200 last year, Care2′s Suzi Parrasch recently reported. That’s a whopping 300 percent increase since the directory was first published 15 years ago.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time vegetable ‘prescriptions’ have been used to improve health in underserved populations. In the 1980s, Massachusetts began issuing coupons for farmers’ markets to low-income women who were pregnant or breast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment.
Thirty-six states now have such farmers’ market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children.
Image Credit: cancerproject.org