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Monthly Health Topics

Get Your Prescription for Fruits and Veggies

By Susan Beane, M.D., Vice President and Medical Director, Healthfirst
We all know that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Two New York City hospitals, Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan and Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx,however, have taken this notion one step further and are handing out prescriptions for fresh produce to help improve the health of our communities.
I’m excited about the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, which allows doctors to write prescriptions for fruit and vegetables for those patients who need them. Patients can redeem these prescriptions at one of 140 farmers markets throughout New York City. The program is sponsored by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that builds links between local agriculture and under-served communities to make healthy, locally-grown foods more accessible.
I spoke to Dr. Sundari Periasamy, a pediatrician at Harlem Hospital Center, to learn more about this program. She says that her hospital is participating in this program to combat the high rate of asthma, which has been linked to childhood obesity. The four-month pilot study will target 50 qualified families and offer them $7 a week in “HealthBucks” to buy fruits and veggies and provide nutrition counseling.
Dr. Periasamy recommends that, regardless of being in this program or not, children have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. “This is the motto of the American Academy of Pediatrics,” she says. “They call it 5-2-1-0, which means five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours of TV time, one hour of physical activity, and zero sugary drinks.”
She emphasizes the importance of parents modeling healthy eating habits early on. “What you learn as a child, you never forget,” says Dr. Periasamy.“By changing the child’s dietary habit, you’re teaching him for life.”
Another part of Harlem Hospital Center’s obesity counseling program is encouraging kids to have fun with exercise. Dr. Periasamy recommends skipping rope as an excellent, cost-effective exercise that’s easy to do at home.
“For exercise, I advise my patients to pick something they like to do,” adds Dr. Periasamy. “If you like to dance, do that. If you like to swim, do that. If you like kick boxing, go for it.”
The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program pilot at Harlem Hospital Center will be studied afterwards and possibly expanded based on results.
Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst. For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org

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