California is leading the way in a novel approach to health care: prescribing food as medicine. The state is funding a $6 million grant program that delivers boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to low-income Californians with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The program also provides nutrition education, cooking classes, and telehealth visits with registered dietitians.
The organic food industry is a booming business. U.S. organic sales surged in 2020, jumping by 12.4% to $61.9 billion.
The goal of the program is to improve the health outcomes of participants, lower their health care costs, and reduce their food insecurity. Food insecurity, or the lack of access to enough nutritious food, affects one in eight Californians and is linked to higher rates of chronic diseases and poor health.
She says her lifestyle has significantly improved since she started receiving produce prescriptions last year as a participant in the Stockton food bank’s Healthy Food RX Program.
“My primary doctor is impressed with my cholesterol because they say it’s better than theirs!” said Bailey, who has started meal prepping using cookbooks from second-hand stores, reading food labels closely, and experimenting with different kinds of squash and greens.
“My dream is to live to 95,” she said. “If we start younger, then maybe people won’t get sick until they’re in their 80s and 90s.”
The program is founded on the concept that food prescriptions can save lives and healthcare funds by preventing or reversing chronic diseases often caused or exacerbated by inadequate nutrition.
The program is currently being tested by various health care organizations in California, such as Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. The program caters to around 1,200 patients and aims to increase to 2,500 by the following year. It is anticipated that the program will run for three years and assess its effect on the health and health care expenses of the participants.
One successful local program is in Solano County, where Rich Oliver drives a colorful box truck painted with crates of fruits and veggies to clinic parking lots during the week.
“We are purposely outside of clinics because we want patients in the clinic to have access to this,” says Oliver, who is the coordinator of the county’s “mobile food pharmacy.”
So far, the program has shown promising results. Participants have reported improvements in their blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and weight management. They have also expressed satisfaction with the quality and quantity of the food they receive, as well as the support they get from the dietitians. “I feel more energetic, more happy. I don’t have cravings for junk food anymore. I’m more motivated to exercise and take care of myself,” said Maria Romero, a participant of the program in Los Angeles.
The program also benefits the local economy by sourcing the food from local farmers and producers.
California’s food prescription program is an innovative example of how food can be used as a powerful tool to improve health and well-being. By addressing the root causes of chronic diseases and providing access to healthy food, the program hopes to create a healthier and happier population.
– Just what the doctor ordered: In California, a prescription could pay for your fresh fruits and veggies by Rya Jetha, CalMatters. Published on August 15, 2023
– Food as Medicine: How One Hospital Is Using Organic Produce to Help Heal Patients by Tara Duggan, San Francisco Chronicle. Published on July 28, 2023
– How Food Prescriptions Can Save Lives And Healthcare Dollars by Dr. Robert Graham, Forbes. Published on June 29, 2023
In the November 20 edition of TrendyDigests, an article titled “How California Is Using Food Prescriptions to Heal Patients and Save Money” contained inaccurate information and quotes from L.A. Care Heath plan employees. The error was due to our editor Ethan Brown’s negligence in handling the information source and the internal communication. We express our sincere apologies to L.A. Care Heath plan and the readers for the mistake and any inconvenience it may have caused. The article has been updated. We welcome your feedback and criticism on our work.