Prescription Produce is a Great Idea

by Ric Merrifield

Prescription Produce is a Great IdeaTalk about some great rethinking in the world of health care. . .

$14.1 billion is the current annual cost of child obesity in the US in terms of direct costs according to this article by Natasha Singer.

The new program that is aimed at reducing childhood obesity is really clever and I think that it will succeed on many levels. Doctors in Massachusetts started this program where they write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets, in what amounts to about $1 a day per person in the household. The premise is that kids are eating so-called “empty calorie” foods that are the causes of the obesity. Why do I think this is such a great idea? There are several reasons:

1) We don’t really know what it will take to cause people to eat healthier foods. This will at least test if the cost of the healthier foods is a major factor in the decision about how much to buy, especially in low income areas.

2) We don’t know how much encouragement is needed to make long-term dietary changes If people only get the vouchers for a month, will that be enough for them to make the switch and eat a little bit healthier? Is there any difference between one month and six months? This program can test that.

3) Raising awareness that this something insurance companies should cover. Wellness is an increasingly large expense in corporate America, as companies educate their employees and offer fitness and diet programs to help them stay healthy and avoid obesity, which is the gateway disease to diabetes, which is the gateway disease to heart attacks, stroke, and a long list of other things. Wellness should start with children and if these programs can prove anything about what does and doesn’t cause children to lead healthier lives, and as we learn about that, we should start to see insurance companies funding these programs. Diabetes costs $14,500 per patient per year in the US, you can buy a lot of fruits and vegetables all year long without coming close to spending that much. And insurance companies are undoubtedly covering a lot of that $14.1 billion that Singer talks about in her article.

4) Kids will be happier. I am not a psychologist, but my bet is that when a doctor sits down with a kid and talks to them about how to be healthier, I am willing to bet that kid will love the attention and know that there’s another person (beyond parents) who cares about them. And if it’s done right, my guess is that the kids will be very motivated to make the doctor proud of their progress, and a lot of kids see the same doctor growing up, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the longevity of the relationship plays a role in the long term dietary impacts of this program.

5) It’s just great rethinking. We all know how much attention health care needs, and there’s already a ton of awareness raising efforts around health and diet and obesity, and we all know that our doctor is someone we trust who has the ability to prescribe medicine, but to empower them to physically prescribe health, is just great because it makes so much sense. The “what”, the outcome is very clear, and this is just a super “how” to do it differently.

Are there risks and asterisks with this program, sure. Lots. Singer talks about a lot of them in her article, but there’s also so much inevitable goodness and learning that will come from this, it’s well worth the experiment. I really hope it catches on.

P.S. If anyone knows the origin of the “Rx” symbol for prescriptions, I would love to hear about it.

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Ric Merrifield is known at the “Business Scientist” at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, WA and is the author of “Rethink“. He blogs about ways to rethink through getting out of what he calls “the ‘how’ trap”.

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