One of the most common prescriptions written today by physicians nationwide is for statins, medications that help to control your cholesterol level. Coming in next in popularity are drugs that control blood pressure (based on a 2011 data report). Also featured on the top-ten list are drugs that treat angina, an antacid drug (Prilosec), Glucophage (a diabetes drug) and water pills for hypertension.
Notice a trend here? Most of these drugs treat conditions that are associated with poor lifestyle choices. Typically when the doctor hands us a prescription, we fill it immediately and take it, because the doctor has endorsed the therapy by giving you this paper. But If the doctor had written a prescription for you to change your dietary choices, specifically, to limit processed food and target “x’ number of servings of fruits and vegetables every day, would you also consider it a doctor-endorsed therapy and do it? Physicians in Washington D.C. are doing just that.
The D.C. Green’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, created by a Nurse Practitioner, has provided produce to at-risk patients, with poor access to healthy fruits and vegetables. This has been done in conjunction with doctors who readily write prescriptions for these farmacies. Since 2012, hundreds of individuals have benefitted from this program, treating their produce prescriptions with the same respect that they would a prescription for traditional medication.
Removing impediments, making food choices as important as medication, and providing ongoing support are the key elements of this successful program. The program works in three major ways:
1.) Partering with four D.C. based healthcare centers, in conjunction with several farmers’ markets, to allow low income consumers struggling with diseases directly related to obesity (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis), access to a bounty of fruits and vegetables.
2.) Anyone who participates in the program is also required to enroll in a weekly wellness program. They receive nutrition education and access to exercise.
3.) Access to a mobile market that shows up at clinics so patients can immediately fill their prescriptions.
Health care providers have been incredibly supportive of the program because they now know that when they recommend a healthier diet, it is within the reach of their patients. The prescriptions are filled because there is immediate access and because the financial impediments have been removed.
On average, half the patients have seen reductions in BMI, weight loss, improved vital signs (blood pressure), and overall improvement in their general health. Doctors also like the fact that with these improvements, patients are motivated to keep learning about nutrition and exercise, which means more meaningful dialogue between the provider and the patient. The program success also translates into lower rates of prescribing costly drugs, long term.
So the question is, would you be more likely to embrace diet changes like increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, if your doctor wrote you an actual prescription - and of course, if it was financially possible for you to afford the healthier foods? Would you be inspired to budget for produce if your doctor wrote you a prescription, signaling the importance of this dietary therapy? Do you recognize the credible value that your food choices have, and the impact these selections can have on your health and weight, without the many side effects that often accompany medications you take? If your answer is yes, then ask your doctor to write that produce prescription the next time you see him…..and fill it immediately.