New doctor prescription: Fresh fruit and vegetables

Under the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, doctors at two New York City hospitals write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables to patients at risk of obesity.

Under the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, hospital patients get "health bucks" that they can use to buy fruit and vegetables at farmers markets.

Can an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

It's not that simple, but there's a whole lot of truth to that advice, say two New York City hospitals that are joining a national program in which physicians give patients at risk of obesity "prescriptions" for fruits and vegetables.

Related: Ice cream truck gives its customers two scoops of disappointment

Under the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, low-income, at-risk patients at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx and Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan will receive "health bucks" coupons they can redeem for fruit and vegetables at any New York City farmers market.

Patients receive health bucks in the amount of $1 per day for themselves and their family members, so someone with a family of four would get $28 worth of coupons per week.

"A food environment full of processed foods full of fat, sugar and salt is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement Tuesday. "The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program is a creative approach that, with the inclusion of health bucks, will enable at-risk patients to visit any of our 142 farmers markets and purchase the fruits and vegetables that will help them stay healthy."

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?

The FVRx program was started by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that supports small and midsized farms, in 2011 at pilot sites in Massachusetts, Maine, California and Rhode Island. Last year, the program was expanded to include 12 sites in seven states and the District of Columbia.

Related: Apples keep 'Dirty Dozen' pesticide residue title for 3rd year

Those pilot projects were at community-based health centers. Lincoln Medical Center and Harlem Hospital Center are the first hospitals to join the program, according to Wholesome Wave.

Each hospital will try to enroll up to 70 patients, who will remain in the program for at least four months. Patients will return to the hospital monthly to meet with their doctor, renew their fruit and vegetable prescriptions, have their weight and body mass index evaluated, and receive nutritional counseling.

Bronx resident Tammy Futch told the New York Daily News she's lost weight, and her 11-year-old son has dropped 20 pounds since joining the program. 

“He was one that never ate vegetables. He used to be a McDonald’s baby," she said, according to the newspaper.

A recent study by Swedish researchers, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who ate fewer than five servings of fruit and vegetables a day were more likely to die early.

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