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In Washington, DC, Doctor's Add Vegetable Prescriptions to Anti-Obesity Arsenal

Washington, DC's taking a page from other cities' book with a new prescription program for fruits and vegetables.

There are plenty of cities trying to tackle obesity with punitive measures, by banning sodas or ditching vending machines. A new program in Washington, DC is taking an opposite approach, encouraging healthy eating not by preventing people from eating poorly but by subsidizing healthy foods.

We Can helps low-income families in the District access fruits and vegetables, an essential but often too-expensive portion of any healthful diet, by providing a "prescription" for subsidized items from the farmers' market. According to The Washington Post, each of the 35 families participating in the prescription program receives $1 per family member per day to spend at a handful of markets around town. (That works out to more than $100 per month for a four-person family.)

It's hosted by the Unity Health Care Upper Cardozo clinic in Washington, DC and is a part of a suite of programs, including cooking and yoga classes, designed to help low-income families confront the challenges of obesity. Participants get enrolled in the program through their primary care provider, meet regularly with a nutritionist throughout the duration, and get their veggie prescription refilled monthly.

While the food prescriptions are new to DC, the concept was piloted by Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit that helps underserved communities get access to local food with incentive programs. In 2011, the group began the program with more than 1,000 individuals in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and saw a decrease in body mass index for more than one-third of participants in the four-month program. Plus, the farmers markets that participated connected with new customers, many of whom had never been to the market before, and experienced a bump in revenue.

"Our goal is nothing less than to prove that eating more fruits and vegetables makes people more healthy," Michel Nischan, Wholesome Wave's founder and chief executive, told the Post "We want to show that by funding these programs, we can help reduce what we spend on health care."

The program in DC will give out $26,000 worth of food-prescriptions during its first run, but the department of health plans to provide double the funding in 2013.

Image via (cc) Flickr user USDAgov

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