Helping Families Eat Their Veggies, One Prescription at a Time
Before she turned 10, Alaijah was overweight and suffering from asthma. Trips to the gym were futile, since exercise always triggered asthma attacks. Doctors had prescribed an inhaler as well as daily steroid treatments. In 2012, Dr. Sundari Periasamy, a pediatrician at Harlem Hospital Center, had a new prescription for Alaijah: fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The doctor said, ‘Listen, you will be able to take this prescription to the farmers market and get vouchers for fruits and vegetables,’” recalls Alaijah’s mother, Sheryl Browne. “At first I was skeptical, but I accepted it because it was a new option.”
Between 2012 and 2015, Wholesome Wave’s innovative Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) Program® NYC reached 2,755 patients and household members and resulted in decreased BMI for 42.6 percent of all patients who completed the intervention. Over three years, $185,000 was spent at NYC farmers markets through the program. For Alaijah, the results were life-changing.
“The very first year, she lost weight,” Browne says happily. “The second year, not only did she lose weight, she didn’t need to take her steroids every day. She is so active now—it is such a total difference. She plays volleyball, soccer, swimming. She is now a cheerleader, and not just a cheerleader, she’s actually a flyer.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables had been too expensive for Sheryl to buy regularly,so thanks to FVRx, she started taking all four of her children to the weekly farmers market. The kids enjoyed picking out produce and chatting with the farmers about recipes for everything from apricots to purple string beans. Alaijah wants to be a chef when she grows up, and Browne’s son, who is only three, prefers fresh fruit to sweets. The simple act of making produce affordable has reversed their health outcomes.
“It wasn’t just, ‘let’s make your daughter not fat,’ it was ‘let’s make your whole family healthy,’” Browne says. Today she says her kids don’t ask for chips anymore. They ask for kale instead.