‘Fruit and vegetable prescription’ program helps at-risk patients improve their health by promoting access to fresh, local produce

93 percent of participants in 2013 Detroit pilot reported managing their conditions better


A “fruit and vegetable prescription” program designed to increase access to fresh, locally grown produce among at-risk patients in Detroit has shown promise as a way to reduce diet-related medical problems including obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Results of a 2013 pilot of Health Rx, a four-month fruit and vegetable prescription program that enrolled 48 patients on Detroit’s southwest side, were presented at a Feb. 12 community meeting at the CHASS (Community Health and Social Services) Southwest Center in Detroit.

“Fruit and vegetable prescription programs are the result of innovative partnerships between health care agencies and community food providers, connecting patients to healthy, fresh, locally grown produce,” according to Denise Pike, development director at CHASS. "Beginning early in 2013, our staff held meetings with physicians, community health workers and health advocates to share this approach to increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among vulnerable community members in Detroit.”

Bottom line? Overall, 93 percent of the participants reported that they manage their health conditions better since starting the program.

“Participants set goals for healthy eating and received a ‘prescription’ to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Pike said. The prescriptions allowed each patient to purchase up to $40 worth of fresh, Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables at the CHASS Mercado, or farmers’ market, for $10 each week during the four-month program.

“This is equal to from 7 to 30 servings of fresh produce per week for each patient and their family,” Pike said. Participating patients also received support for healthier eating, including nutrition counseling and healthy cooking demonstrations at the market.

CHASS worked with the Ecology Center to launch the program, along with support from Eastern Market’s neighborhood farm stand program and the Fair Food Network. Funding was provided by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and GE Foundation. Plans are in the works to continue and expand the program in 2014.

Participants in the 2013 pilot program—low-income patients with chronic disease, caregivers of children five years old and younger, and pregnant women—received referrals from their primary care physician and attended an orientation to learn about the program, designed to promote healthy eating, increase access to healthy food, and enhance the knowledge and skills needed to choose, prepare and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The Health Rx program brings together the health care system and the food system in Detroit to help patients connect what they eat to how they feel, improve eating habits and health outcomes, and to build a healthy, sustainable food system in Detroit,” according to Kathryn Savoie, Detroit community health director at the Ecology Center.

More than 60 percent of the participants reported struggling with food insecurity, and 40 percent were receiving federal food assistance.

After participating in the program, nearly all, 94 percent, reported eating more fruits and vegetables; 75 percent reported that their family members eat more fruits and vegetables; and more than half, 57 percent, reported their children eat more fruits and vegetables. Participants also reported a 19 percent decrease in the number of times they consumed unhealthy foods during an average week.

Other results:

  • 80 percent reported buying and cooking with fruits and vegetables that they did not buy or cook with before.
  • Patients reported buying fresh fruits and vegetables more frequently and including vegetables in meal planning more often after participating in the program.
  • 38 percent of participants had never shopped at a farmers market before. More than $2,350 was spent on locally grown fresh produce by participants.
  • 6 out of 7 providers used healthy food prescriptions with clients, strengthening their capacity to promote healthy food with clients.
  • 100 percent of the participating providers agreed that the program could benefit many of their patients.
  • 88 percent of participants said that talking to a health provider at the clinic helped them to eat more fruits and vegetables.
For more information, contact: Denise Pike, dpike@chasscenter.org, 313-450-5123; Kathryn L. Savoie, Ph.D., kathryn@ecocenter.org, 313-443-6201



Published on February 12, 2014