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Press Releases

Doctors at HHC Elmhurst and Bellevue Hospitals Write Fruit & Vegetable “Prescriptions” for Vulnerable Children and their Families

First Year of FVRx Program in Harlem and the South Bronx Increased Consumption of Healthy Food, Lowered BMI in 40 percent of Children, and Gave Families Access to More Fresh Foods

Oct 16, 2014

New York, NY

“Prescriptions” for Fresh Foods.
Click to view larger image

The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) today announced the expansion of a program that allows doctors at HHC’s Elmhurst and Bellevue Hospital Centers to write fruit and vegetable “prescriptions” to children who are overweight or obese to help improve access to healthy food and promote overall health and wellness in the community. First adopted by HHC hospitals in the South Bronx and Harlem last summer, the Wholesome Wave Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program (FVRx) proved successful in its first year when the program at HHC Harlem Hospital Center and HHC Lincoln Medical Center helped 40 percent of the enrolled children lower their Body Mass Index (BMI) and more than half of the families reported having more food to eat at home.
“A prescription for healthy food at an affordable price can be even better than a prescription for medicine,” said HHC President Dr. Ram Raju. “When doctors don’t just ask patients to eat more fruits and vegetables, but take concrete steps to make it easier for them and to demonstrate the benefits, patients listen. Obesity is a significant problem for children in New York City. With HHC’s excellent primary care services and community collaborations like this one, we can help children learn at an early age that a healthy lifestyle and good food choices strongly affect their future health and wellbeing.”
“The 2013 FVRx HHC pilot showed tremendous beneficial impact on pediatric patients, including increased fruit and vegetable consumption, decreased BMI, and reductions in food insecurity,” said Michel Nischan, Wholesome Wave President and CEO. “The success of the FVRx New York City pilot has helped Wholesome Wave develop a robust model for national replication based on strong public and private partnerships and refined the argument for hospitals to adopt FVRx as a health promotion and chronic disease prevention strategy.”
“We are thrilled with the success of the innovative FVRx pilot program and are proud to announce the expansion in New York City to Elmhurst and Bellevue Hospitals,” said Laurie M. Tisch, president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which collaborated with Wholesome Wave, HHC and the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy to bring FVRx to New York. “At the Illumination Fund, we are dedicated to providing increased access and opportunity to New Yorkers by supporting initiatives related to healthy food, the arts, economic development and civic service. Through continued collaboration with our great partners, I am confident that the FVRx NYC program will continue to impact positively even more members of our community.”
“The incentive programs we operate at our hospital-based Greenmarkets, such as the market outside Elmhurst Hospital, greatly contribute to farmers’ success while significantly impacting community health,” says GrowNYC’s Greenmarket Director Michael Hurwitz. “We value this partnership with Wholesome Wave and thank HHC for their leadership in recognizing that wellness begins with what we put into our bodies. Farm-fresh food is the healthiest option and this win-win program addresses both the economic and physical health of our rural and urban communities.”
“The negative health outcomes for families who have been chronically deprived from the ability to purchase enough healthy food can be devastating,” said Barbara Turk, New York City’s Food Policy Director. “I am pleased to support the expansion of the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, an innovative partnership between city government and the nonprofit sector that has given New York City communities additional purchasing power to invest in their health.”
“The expansion of FVRx is a welcome addition to our ongoing efforts in improving the health of the community we serve,” said Chris Constantino, HHC Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Elmhurst Hospital. “Based on previous successes in the South Bronx and Harlem, we are confident this program has the potential to make a really positive impact in the overall health of our children and community.”
“Providing nutritional awareness and healthy food choices play a vital role in improving the health of our patients,” said Andrew B. Wallach, MD, FACP, Clinical Director, Ambulatory Care, Bellevue Hospital Center. “It’s been shown that incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into one’s diet helps improve overall health and well-being. That’s why we are excited to offer this program to our Bellevue community.”

About the HHC/Wholesome Wave FVRx Program

HHC selects pediatric patients for FVRx based on age and BMI eligibility. Over the course of four months, during farmers market season, patients receive a “prescription” to eat more fruit and vegetables. The prescription is designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for the entire family and is typically valued at $1 per day per household member ($28 per week for a family of four). This year, Wholesome Wave is piloting a $.50 incentive at two of the FVRx hospitals ($14 per week for a family of four). The prescription is exchanged on-site for Health Bucks, a city-wide Department of Health and Mental Hygiene program, which can be used at all New York City farmers markets
Program participants at Elmhurst and Harlem Hospital Centers can use Health Bucks at farmers markets on-site or elsewhere throughout New York City. Participants at Bellevue Hospital have a unique opportunity to participate in a Fresh Food Box program operated by GrowNYC. FVRx patients can exchange their prescription for Health Bucks and choose to purchase a Fresh Food Box that includes 10 pounds of fresh produce for $10 or patients can use their Health Bucks at farmers markets throughout NYC. The Fresh Food Box program is available every Tuesday at Bellevue Hospital through December.
Each month, patients return to the hospital to meet with their doctor and/or nutritionist, renew their fruit and vegetable prescriptions, have their weight and BMI evaluated, and receive nutritional counseling leading to self-management goals for healthy eating. Monthly visits help keep patients and their families on track, and keep communication open between participants and their healthcare providers.
Elmhurst’s FVRx program will run until November and expects to reach 400 children and family members. Bellevue’s program will run until December and will impact about 250 children and family members.
An analysis by Wholesome Wave presented the following first year results (final report available) of the FVRx program at Harlem Hospital Center and Lincoln Medical Center, where more than 550 children and family members benefited:

  • Nearly 96 percent of families and 97 percent of children increased consumption of fruits and vegetables;
  • At the completion of the program, 71 percent of households reported having enough of the kinds of foods they want to eat, compared to only 29 percent of households at the start of the program;
  • 40 percent of children lowered their BMI;
  • More than 90 percent of participants reported shopping at local farmers markets weekly or more than 2-3 times per month;
  • 70 percent of patients reported an increase in knowledge about the importance of fruits and vegetables in their family’s diets;
  • 97 percent of patients were happy with their healthy weight program because of their participation in FVRx.

Overall, eight HHC hospitals host farmers markets in partnership with Harvest Home and Greenmarket. Elmhurst Hospital Center hosts one on Tuesdays through December 23; and Harlem Hospital Center on Fridays through November 1.
Shoppers at farmers markets can pay for their fresh fruits and vegetables using EBT cards (food stamps), Health Bucks, Green Checks, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) coupons or WIC coupons.

Contact: Jennifer Bender, 212-788-3339, benderj1@nychhc.org
Ian Michaels, 212-788-3339, ian.michaels@nychhc.org

About NYC Health + Hospitals

The NYC Health + Hospitals health care system is a $6.7 billion integrated healthcare delivery system, the largest municipal healthcare organization in the country, and one of the New York area’s largest providers of government-sponsored health insurance, MetroPlusHealth Health Plan, the plan of choice for nearly half a million New Yorkers. The NYC Health + Hospitals health care system serves 1.4 million New Yorkers every year and more than 475,000 are uninsured. The system provides medical, mental health and substance abuse services through its 11 acute care hospitals, five skilled nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers and more than 70 community based clinics. NYC Health + Hospitals/Home Care also provides in-home services for New Yorkers. The NYC Health + Hospitals system was the 2008 recipient of the National Quality Forum and The Joint Commission’s John M. Eisenberg Award for Innovation in Patient Safety and Quality. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org or find us on https://www.facebook.com/NYCHealthSystem or twitter.com/NYCHealthSystem.

About Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that strives to create a vibrant, just, and sustainable food system for everyone. By making fresh, locally and regionally grown foods more affordable and accessible, Wholesome Wave enables underserved community members to make healthier food choices. With programs in 25 states and DC, Wholesome Wave’s innovative initiatives are improving health outcomes among low-income populations, generating additional revenue for small and mid-sized farms and bolstering local and regional economies. To learn more visit www.wholesomewave.org or call 203-226-1112.

About the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund (LMTIF) is a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers. Founded in 2007 by philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch, the Illumination Fund plays an active role in supporting innovative approaches to education, the arts, healthy food and civic service in order to illuminate strategies that transform our urban landscape. For more information about the Illumination Fund, visit http://www.lmtilluminationfund.org/.

About GrowNYC

GrowNYC is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that works to make New York City more sustainable, and improve the lives of all New Yorkers. Reaching two million New Yorkers every year, GrowNYC operates Greenmarket farmers markets, engages New Yorkers in recycling education and resources, builds and maintains green spaces and engages young people in hands-on education. Learn more at www.grownyc.org.