We’ve all heard the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Doctors in Massachusetts have decided to take this literally. The New York Times reports that medical professionals at three health centers are handing out “prescription produce” to low-income families in an effort to fight obesity. Families are receiving dollar vouchers to exchange at area farmers markets for fresh produce. The theory is that fruits and vegetables will promote healthy eating among families.

Childhood obesity is caused by numerous factors, but diet, lack of exercise, socioeconomic factors and family history are among the most prominent influences. The Mayo Clinic reports that children from low-income families are at a much higher risk for childhood obesity, partially due to the lack of affordable fruits and vegetables. And with dollar menus prevalent in fast-food restaurants, families find it harder to make healthier choices.

Complications from childhood obesity are severe. Children are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders and more. They are also more prone to suffer from bullying, low self-esteem, depression and behavior problems. Meanwhile, the cost of childhood obesity in the United States is around $14.1 billion annually in direct health expenses. Not to mention, it clearly is in a child’s best interest to develop healthy eating habits for both mind and body. However, these behaviors often go overlooked in many low-income families.

Why? It's partially because fruits and vegetables are expensive. Dr. Suki Tepperberg is a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, where doctors are handing out vouchers for produce at local farmers markets. As he told the NY Times, “A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more. The goal [of this program] is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day.”

Families are given dollar vouchers, which are filled by vendors for healthy foods. Meanwhile, doctors will track the families to see how the fresh foods affect their eating patterns, as well as their weight and body mass. Supporters hope that this new program will encourage children and families to adopt healthier eating habits in the long run.

Leslie-Ann Ogiste of Boston and her 9-year-old son, Makael Constance, actively use the veggie vouchers. She and her son have already lost a combined four pounds. According to Ogiste, the program has “worked wonders. Just the variety, it did help.” Further, as she told the NY Times, “We have stopped the snacks. We are drinking more water and less soda and less juice too.” 

For further reading:

Veggie vouchers: Doctors actually prescribing an apple a day
New program in Massachusetts promotes prescription produce to fight childhood obesity.