NEW YORK - The South Bronx is home to one of the biggest fresh food distribution centers in the world, yet 40 percent of residents tell city officials it's hard to find high quality, fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood.
And, according to officials, the area struggles with obesity and other health problems linked to poor eating.
That could be set to change. Two New York City hospitals are joining a national program that lets doctors write high-risk, low-income patients prescriptions for fruits and vegetables.
The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program - FVRx - turns local farmers markets into pharmacies. Patients receive $2 of "Health Bucks" coupons for each member of the family, and the coupons can be used to buy fresh produce once a week. Health Bucks are redeemable at any of the city's 142 farmers markets.
Seventy families are taking part at Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan and Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. Tammy Futch's son was put on the pilot program last year, and since then 11-year-old Ty-J has lost 40 pounds.
"My son never ate different vegetables, he was one of those kids who doesn't like them," Futch said. "But now he does. We all do," Futch added that she and her four other children had also benefited.
Other initiatives in the four-month program include lessons on nutrition and cooking classes for both children and adults.
Dr. Ross Wilson, the chief medical officer at Lincoln Medical Center, said that, in combination with prescriptions for exercise, the program was a "revolution" in how New York health care providers tackle obesity.
Fruit and vegetable prescriptions are part of the Bloomberg administration's ongoing efforts to get New Yorkers fit and healthy. Each city dollar invested "nourishes public hospital patients and their families, boosts revenue at farmers markets, and supports overall community health," said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs in a statement.
The program is the brainchild of a Connecticut-based organization called Wholesome Wave and has been implemented successfully in eight other states, with almost 40 percent of child participants reducing their body mass index.
The New York program is a public-private partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.