When you look at the declining health of much the population in this country and worldwide, and then to the ingredients on the food shelved at the supermarket one has to wonder if there is a correlation. Well, New York City must have had a similar thought because things are a changing in the Big Apple. That’s right, the city of New York is now prescribing produce in two public hospitals in the Bronx and Manhattan.
These hospitals serve largely low income and working class families who are at risk for greater health concerns. Doctors in these health care facilities are starting to hand out what are known as ‘Health Bucks‘ to the entire family of those who are facing problems like obesity, which can be used at Farmer’s Markets around the city. These Farmers’ Markets happen at least three times a week offering families their choice of the finest in fresh produce for free with their vouchers.
The city sees these vouchers as equivalent to writing prescriptions for produce, encouraging entire families who would probably not be eating so well, to increase their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Before receiving these ‘prescription vouchers’ families are assigned a doctor and nutritionist to discuss their eating habits, who they then must meet with again each month after they have been using the Health Bucks to buy produce.
Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley made a most enlightening statement at a recent press conference saying: “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. Seen as a refreshing and creatively new approach to the health concerns facing New York’s population, only time will tell how this new program will serve the people of the area. There are presently over 142 Farmers’ Markets in the New York City area where these ‘Health Bucks’ can be used, giving people a lot of shopping options to obtain fresh, local produce, despite their limited hours of operation.
The Health Bucks are fairly new in the area, though they have previously been promoted through the use of foodstamps, which offers users $2 in Health Bucks for every $5 of food stamps spent. Not too many folks took advantage of this plentiful opportunity to get vegetables last year, as only $260,000 in Health Bucks were dispersed at the markets. This new prescription for health will hopefully up the usage of Health Bucks by requiring families have regular monthly ‘check-ins’ to report their purchases and progress.
With New York City’s recent ban on soft drinks and re implementation of the fast-food calorie count, this city seems to be taking an aggressive approach in health care change, in a novel, one could say ‘natural’ way. Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems dead set on encouraging the health of his people through new previously untried tactics – including prescribing produce to those with health concerns. Will the city’s new use of ‘Health Bucks’ tip the scale in favor of wellness for the people of New York ? And if so, will other cities follow their lead and offer their citizens similar fresh outlets for age-old concerns, with or without the prescription?
Written by: Stasia Bliss