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Prescription Produce: An Apple a Day Keeps Obesity at Bay

| 8/23/2010 4:07:13 PM

As childhood obesity has entered the spotlight in the last few years, everyone from health professionals to politicians has tackled the issue in search of an answer. Now several health clinics in the Northeast are trying one of the simplest solutions to preventing childhood obesity: eat more produce!

While proper nutrition is certainly key to maintaining a healthy weight, children don't always receive (or willingly eat) the foods they need. Many children will put up a fuss if you place a plate full of veggies in front of them, and for some families, high-quality produce from local farms is an unaffordable luxury. The “Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program” aims to fix both problems by offering low-income families fresh produce vouchers to use at local farmer's market. The program provides a win-win-win situation for families, farmers and doctors. Children will be fed more nutritious meals, local farmers receive financial support and doctors will gain insight into how eating more produce affects blood pressure, weight and body mass index (BMI), as well as blood sugar levels in pre-diabetics.

mother and child at farmer's market
Buying fresh produce from a local farmers' market is one way to eat healthier and reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Photo By Melinda Shelton/Courtesy Flickr.

Obesity is a complex medical problem that cannot be solved through just one simple change, however. Encouraging families to eat more fruits and vegetables is a key step, but it's only part of the fight. Increasing exercise and decreasing intake of junk foods high in salt and sugar are also essential steps, and ones that are important for families participating in the prescription produce program to establish, especially as the program only runs through late fall, at which point many farmers’ markets take a hiatus for the winter. (Program officials are looking to extend the program to supermarkets for the winter months.)

Community health centers in Holyoke, Lawrence and Boston, Massachusetts are currently participating in the program, and several clinics in Maine are participating in a similar program that offers produce vouchers to pregnant women. The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and a nonprofit group called Wholesome Wave that supports family farmers each provided $10,000 in seed money to get the program started.

If staying healthy isn't enough to make you frequent your local market, discover ten reasons to shop at the farmer's market. Having trouble getting your kids to eat their veggies? Check out these four tips to make vegetables more appealing to children.

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