California is Putting Wholesome Food on a Pedestal!

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is leveling up.

Sep 6, 2023
California is Putting Wholesome Food on a Pedestal! | Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is leveling up.

There’s a holistic approach to optimal health that’s been brewing for a while. This take on wellbeing seeks to reduce a person’s reliance on medicines to keep health conditions in check, and even prevent them from occurring in the first place through accessible lifestyle changes, particularly via healthier eating habits. And California’s new food prescription experiment, as Mercury News reports, is a perfect example of this outlook in action.

Spotlight on Recipe4Health
In Alameda County,California, one of these food prescription programs, Recipe4Health, already serves 4,000 people in the local community. Once on this program,  participants are being given prescriptions for healthy food instead of pills. Participating diabetics, for instance, get a free box of healthy food delivered to their door once a fortnight. This package includes fruits and vegetables, chicken breast, quinoa and a selection of other nutritious foods.

The Recipe4Health program has three key elements. Firstly, a Food Farmacy ensures the delivery of organic, nutrient-rich produce. Secondly, group and individual health coaching in the Behavioral Pharmacy helps participants learn about healthy lifestyles from teachers of movement, nutrition, stress reduction and social connection to support long-term life habit changes to amplify and sustain the effect of the food. Lastly, Food as Medicine (FOM) Training coaches the health centers and staff on how to implement Recipe4Health by boosting their knowledge of good nutrition, progress monitoring and clinic workflow integration.

This is just one of several food prescription initiatives in California, reports Mercury News. A  successful Solano County program, for example, sees a truck painted with colorful produce visit clinic parking lots to offer healthy produce to patients: “We are purposely outside of clinics because we want patients in the clinic to have access to this,” says Oliver,the coordinator of the county’s mobile food pharmacy.

This initiative launched in 2018, when the country partnered with the local food bank and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a federally-recognized native tribe. It is reported to have served a staggering 16,000 people in April and June of this year.  A local resident on disability, Jose Leyva, has only good words to say about this prescription, now covering a mouthwatering selection of fresh produce for his family, as quoted in the following post:

Programs such as these are part of a multifaceted bid to boost health and cut food insecurity as well as health costs: “Advocates who want to expand the program across California say it could very well be a way to improve chronic conditions, lower health care costs and reduce hunger, all at the same time,” details the newspaper.

The rise and rise of the Food is Medicine movement
Food prescription experiments such as Receipe4Health are considered to be part of the increasingly popular FOM movement, seeing food as a route to health. As the US healthcare industry organization, Advisory Board, explains, this is an umbrella term that embraces things like pre-made meals designed by dieticians, also known as medically tailored meals, cooking classes for doctors, and federal programs addressing food insecurity.

Medically tailored groceries designed for certain conditions, and produce prescriptions, which are vouchers for unprepared fresh fruit and vegetables, are also part of FOM.

So far, this FOM approach has captivated major US health bodies that are now supporting a Food is Medicine Initiative. This was announced in September 2022 by The American Heart Association and The Rockefeller Foundation at a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. Its aim is to ensure patients receive medical prescriptions for healthy food to help prevent and manage chronic disease.

Several studies are already testing the positive impact of produce prescriptions on sample groups of unwell and vulnerable populations.

The positive results shown in one such study, were referred to on a Healthwatch segment on  CBS News in August 2023. It covered its results showing that prescribing fresh produce to adults and children is associated with increased consumption of these foods and multiple health benefits such as an improved body mass index and blood sugar and blood pressure levels, after just six months. 

According to Kurt Hager, lead author of the study, and quoted in the Washington Post, “We have an ongoing epidemic of diet-related illness.” According to him, until now, physicians have had very few tools at their disposal to improve the nutrition of their patients besides some limited access to nutrition counselling. Food prescriptions are therefore revolutionary.

CBS quotes Dr. Mitchell Elkind, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association on this study: “This analysis of produce prescription programs illustrates the potential of subsidized produce prescriptions to increase consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables, reduce food insecurity and, hopefully, improve subjective and objective health measures.”

It is likely that more encouraging results of food prescription research such as this, could potentially impact future health policy for the better.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.