Image of a farmers market worker sorting various vegetables.

Food as Medicine: Why Doctors are Prescribing a Trip to the Farmers Market

This is the first in a series of posts about the connections between eating fresh produce and better health. We’ll also be exploring efforts happening across Michigan to expand access to farmers markets for lower-income people and those with chronic diseases as well as how the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation is supporting various initiatives. 

A prescription helped Jackie Nees’ lose weight, get outside more and strengthen connections with her family members and her community.

It’s not a miracle drug she picked up at the pharmacy. To fill this prescription, Nees visited her local farmers market in Houghton.

She’d been asking her doctor, Michelle Seguin, M.D., a family medicine physician at the Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center, about chronic health conditions and inflammation she was experiencing. To her surprise, Seguin wrote her a prescription for fruits and vegetables through a program called Prescription for Health.

“The experience was really surprising because I had never really thought much about shopping at the local farmers market,” Nees said.

Originally developed by the Washtenaw County Health Department, Prescription for Health is a community health initiative that bridges local health care and food systems to address chronic disease and food insecurity.

That program and ones like it are gaining in popularity in Michigan, helping lower-income people with chronic disease gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Those programs have been emerging more than rapidly across the state,” said Michelle Gagliardi, Programs Director at the Michigan Farmers Market Association. She’s leading a statewide learning network to standardize best practices for the initiatives and to understand how they’re working in different communities.

Studying the impact of produce prescription programs is a concept the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports. Last year, a $10,000 grant was made to study the health outcomes of participants in the Prescription for Health program in Houghton and a $50,000 grant supported a Fresh Prescription program at the Community Health and Social Services Center, Inc. (CHASS) in Detroit. The CHASS initiative specifically focused on participants who had been diagnosed with diabetes.

Only one in 10 American adults meet federal fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

With seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States attributed to chronic diseases, our lack of produce isn’t ideal. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of many leading causes of illness and death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity.

According to the CDC, studies have found that high cost, limited availability and access and perceived lack of cooking and preparation time can be barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption. Consumption is lower in men, young adults and adults living in poverty.

Check back to learn more about statewide efforts to standardize and expand prescription programs and how programs are working in different communities. Our final blog post will dive deeper into Nees’ story.  

Photo credit: Gemma Billings

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