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Doctors write prescriptions for produce

Jul 28, 2012 9:44am
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(NECN/NBC; Doreen Gentzler, Washington, DC) - Imagine a life without ever eating fruits and vegetables. Well, that's a reality for some Americans, but a new program is hoping to change that.

Janet Lopez is an 18-year-old mother of two, who says her eating habits are pretty typical among some people in her neighborhood.

"I didn't eat vegetables nor fruits. If I did, it was once every month or so," says Lopez.

She says it's because produce is expensive.

"It's difficult because I make a little bit of money at work, so I depend on my mom at times," says Lopez

But over the last two months, things have started to change. That's because Lopez's doctor is now demanding that she and her kids eat better, to the point where she now gets a weekly prescription for fruits and vegetables from the local farmers market.

"I get strawberries, apples, berries, oranges, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes," says Lopez.

It's all part of the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, a joint project between Unity Health Care and community non-profits that gives 35 families a prescription that is honored at five different markets throughout the city.

The amount of money patients get to spend varies depending on family size, but can be as much as $60 per week.

Mirna Valdez works with patients at Unity Health Care's center. She says getting a prescription helps patients realize the significance of a healthy diet.

"Considering the economy, it's a lot and it helps them very much," says Valdez. "It makes them think that medicine is important for health, but also the vegetables. The doctor is prescribing an amount of vegetables and an amount of fruits that you have to have in your life."

The program also introduces patients to farmers markets.

Lauren Biel is executive director of DC Greens, one of the program's partners.

"What we found was that the patients who were coming, many of them didn't even realize that the markets were there," said Biel.

For Lopez, she says she's starting to feel the impact of eating more fruits and veggies.

"Now I have more energy and I'm doing something that's healthier for me and I'm healthier because I'm eating stuff that I need and that I should be eating," says Lopez.

The program lasts six months and participants are selected based on their risk for chronic diseases and obesity. The hope is that it can expand to farmers markets in other cities and serve even more patients.
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