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Fruits and vegetables are an integral part of a healthy diet, especially for growing children. But many families in low-income areas across the country live in ‘food deserts’ where it is a challenge to access affordable, fresh produce.
This challenge is true in Flint, where approximately 60% of children live in poverty and lack nutritional options. Produce prescription programs that specifically target youth could be an innovative solution to the problem.
A team of Michigan State University researchers has been awarded a three-year, $1,635,815 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to study the effectiveness of pediatric fruit and vegetable prescription programs (FVPPs) through the MSU–Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI), based in Flint.
The MSU study will examine whether exposure to a produce prescription program for young patients influences food security, dietary patterns and weight status.
The program provides one $15 prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables—similar to a prescription for medications—to every child at each clinic visit. Instead of going to a pharmacy to fill the “prescription,” it is exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables at a local produce market or mobile market.
“Few studies have examined whether, and to what degree, exposure to pediatric fruit and vegetable prescription programs impacts the diet and health of children,” said Amy Saxe-Custack, PhD, MPH, RDN, principal investigator and assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the College of Human Medicine’s Division of Public Health.
“With childhood consistently identified as a critical period for the establishment of long-term dietary behaviors, it is important to foster healthy eating behaviors early,” Saxe-Custack added.
The PPHI team will work with the Flint Farmers’ Market, a year-round market that is open to the public three days a week; and Flint Fresh, a mobile market that travels throughout Flint and offers free home delivery of fresh fruit and vegetable boxes.
The study will occur at three clinics in Flint: Hurley Children’s Center; an MSU-affiliated residency training pediatric clinic with approximately 11,000 visits each year, AkpinarChildren’s Clinic; one of the largest private-practice pediatric clinics in Flint and Mott Children’s Health Center; the largest pediatric clinic in Genesee County.
The research results will be especially important to pediatricians and primary care physicians who recognize the consequences of food insecurity among young patients and seek tangible solutions that provide food to hungry children and ensure that the food provided is high in nutrients needed to support healthy growth and development.
Co-PI on the grant is Mona Hanna-Attisha; C.S. Mott endowed professor of public health in the College of Human Medicine and director of PPHI. The team also includes David Totem; associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, Jean Kerver; associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and James Anthony; professor and former chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.