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RX for Good Health: More Fruits and Vegetables

March 3rd, 2012 - By Therese Madden

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Doctors at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children are writing some patients prescriptions for food. No need to stop at the pharmacy, patients can pick up their discounted boxes of produce in the hospital’s lobby.


Carol Poindexter is paying for a box of fruits and vegetables, the only thing unusual here is the setting. She’s in a hospital, “oh yeah and I do have that and the Doctor gave me a script to get $5 off.”

You heard right, her doctor gave her a prescription for these fruits and vegetables. “I thought it was strange that he gave me a script for food and I thought, I can’t take this to the store, but then I took time and I read it and I thought oh, let me come back and check it out.” Poindexter is with her 20 month old daughter, Audrey. This is St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Audrey is a patient here. Poindexter says the Doctor’s prescription came at good time. “I was doing so bad. It got to the point between bills and food and that is not a good place to be.”

Although this is Poindexter’s first time using a prescription to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, the Farm to Family Program is here every Friday. Doctors give prescriptions to the parents of children who have failure to thrive, which means they weigh too little, and also for children who are considerably overweight. “Statistics show that between 50% and 70% of the children that live in community around St. Christopher’s Hospital are overweight or obese.” Jan Shaeffer is the Executive Director of the St. Christopher’s Foundation, the non-profit that runs the Farm to Family Program in the neighborhoods in and around the hospital, which are among the poorest in the city. “We knew that the Doctors were having lots of challenges finding ways to provide families with an alternative way to address obesity besides giving them medicine, there’s not really a lot of medicine to address obesity.”

There is no medicine to address issues of hunger either. Dr. Hans Kersten is a pediatrician and the Medical Director of the Grow Clinic at St. Christopher’s Hospital. He’s one of the Doctors who gives out prescriptions for the boxes of food. Kersten says the main reason he thinks the children he sees are not eating healthier is because in this neighborhood, they just don’t have access to fruits and vegetables they can afford. “Not having access to food, those children are more likely to go to the hospital. They are more likely to be admitted. They have more colds and other things. They are more likely to use the resources at a hospital, so giving them the food can really help them.”

Back in the lobby where the food gets picked up, Jo Fagan, a nutrition and cooking educator with the Health Promotion Council is working the hot plate. “I am making a Puerto Rican Style skillet cauliflower, and that is the sizzling leeks right there with the garlic.” Fagan is at the pick up location each week making new recipes. “The recipes are always developed to coincide with what was in the box and then the recipe is always simple, inexpensive, delicious and nutritious. The whole idea is to give people simple recipes that are not expensive and also to have them try new things. We have a lot of people who come by and say I’ve never tasted leeks before, or I’ve never tasted cilantro before.”

The Fresh RX Program began last fall and the number of families coming to pick up boxes of fresh food as a result have been on a slow, but steady increase ever since.

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Photo by Flicker user Chiot's Run / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Get Healthy Philly is part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative, a federal effort to: prevent and delay chronic disease, reduce risk factors, promote wellness in children and adults, and provide positive sustainable health change in our communities.

Food Fit Philly is part of Get Healthy Philly, a program that works to reduce and prevent obesity and related chronic diseases (like heart disease and diabetes) by increasing access to healthy foods that people can afford.

Your body needs help when it's time to quit. SmokeFree Philly is a program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that offers support and tools to help smokers quit. The goal of SmokeFree Philly is to: help people to quit smoking, stop people from starting to use tobacco, and reduce heart disease, cancer and other illnesses caused by smoking.

Philly Food Bucks!
Philly Food Bucks are coupons that help ACCESS/food stamp customers save money on fruits and vegetables. Philly Food Bucks can be redeemed for $2 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $5 spent in ACCESS/food stamps at a participating farmers' market. Learn more about Philly Food Bucks at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's recently expanded web site Food Fit Now also accepted at the West Oak Lane Weaver's Way Food Coop.