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Doc Prescribes Fruit & Veggies for Alaijah

Sheryl Browne’s daughter used to reach for a bag of chips or some cookies for an afternoon snack, but not anymore. Now Alaijah, 12, always goes for a bright green apple.

“Since we started going to the farmers market at Harlem Hospital, and learned how to eat healthy, I feel so much better. I like to play tag again because now I can keep up with my sisters,” said Alaijah.

Two years ago, Alaijah was overweight and suffering from asthma. Instead of a lecture about eating right and exercising, her pediatrician, Dr. Sundari Periasamy at Harlem Hospital, gave her a prescription for fruits and vegetables to be purchased from the local farmers market. The Brownes, a family of five, take the prescription to the market where they are given $42 a week in “Health Bucks” to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The program is a partnership between Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that advocates for access to better food in low-income neighborhoods, NYC Health and Hospitals, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which operates in poor areas where it is hard for residents to access quality food at affordable prices.

“A major part of my family’s problem was that I don’t get enough food stamps to eat right,” said Ms. Browne. “This program allows me to spend my food stamps on meat, cheese and milk, and then purchase fruits and vegetables at the market. The farmers markets close in November and I will be freezing produce for the winter,” added Ms. Browne.

In addition to losing weight and eating healthy, Alaijah’s asthma is better. “Alaijah has been off steroids for a year now. She can participate in gym. She can even climb the ropes! That’s hard!” said Ms. Browne.

Both Alaijah and her little sister, Amira, 6, suffer from asthma. While they still use inhalers to keep the disease in check, neither have had to take steroids in the last year.