Medicine from the Farm


OAKLAND, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — We all know the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But what if you can’t afford the apple … or any other vegetable? One in four American children regularly goes hungry. So, one San Francisco hospital developed an innovative program.

Monika Russi is always on the prowl for ways to keep her son healthy, especially after he was diagnosed with Autism last year. She was surprised when doctors pulled out their prescription pads and ordered food, not pharmaceuticals.

“Being a single mom with two kids and trying to eat healthy is a challenge most of the time,” explained Monika.

Twice a month, low-income patients can pick up fresh produce, lean protein and whole grains free of charge. The food ‘farmacy’ program comes after a four-month hospital study where patients were prescribed food as their ‘medicine’.

“And what we ended up finding was that it improved not only the health of the household, but we also saw changes in the children,” stated Larissa Estes, DrPH, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

“I’m a medical doctor and I prescribe medicine but I always like to take the natural approach whenever possible and food is medicine,” shared Gena Lewis, MD, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

The study also revealed healthy eating not only alleviates symptoms among children, it can even reduce the impact of chronic diseases among their parents.

Monika says the difference in her son since starting the program is remarkable.

“It does alleviate a lot of the symptoms associated with some of his medical challenges,” Monika said.

Dr. Lewis continued, “If we don’t deal with, and know about, and help families with the basics of their life, then we can’t get to the important medical issues at hand.”

Doctors also report once children are introduced to more fruits and vegetables, they get more interested in trying new fresh foods. Other programs similar to the food farmacy have sprouted up in Pennsylvania and Boston.

Contributors to this news report include: Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.

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BACKGROUND: A well-balanced diet provides all of the energy you need to keep active throughout the day and the nutrients you need for growth and repair, helping you to stay strong and healthy and preventing diet-related illness. Keeping active and eating a healthy balanced diet can also help you to maintain a healthy weight. Deficiencies in some key nutrients – such as vitamin A, B, C and E, and zinc, iron and selenium can weaken parts of your immune system. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat and high in fiber found in whole grains can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy can reduce your risk of heart disease by maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A diet rich in calcium keeps your teeth and bones strong and can slow bone loss (osteoporosis) associated with getting older.


WHY FOOD OVER MEDICINE?: About 1 out of every 2 deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S. is linked to a poor diet. That’s about 1,000 deaths a day. Calories are cheap, and indulgent foods full of salt, sugar and fat are usually within our reach 24/7. The current health care system in the U.S. is often described as a disease-care system. “It’s reactive,” says Mitesh Patel, a physician and assistant professor of health care management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “We wait until people get sick and then spend lot of resources helping them get better.” But Patel says there are signs this is beginning to change. “I think the paradigm shift has already begun,” he told us. Patel says the new Fresh Food Pharmacy program from Geisinger Health System includes the kind of financial and social incentives that can help motivate people to make changes. For instance, the Fresh Food Pharmacy gives free, fresh food not just to the patients enrolled but to everyone in their household as well. “The way we behave is really influenced by others around us,” says Patel. So promoting a group effort could “make the program a lot more sticky and more likely to succeed.”


BENEFITS OF FOOD OVER MEDICINE: Beth Morris, a physician with GHS Greenville Family Medicine and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine – Greenville, is board-certified in Family Medicine. She is also the first physician in the area to become board-certified in Lifestyle Medicine. Lifestyle Medicine is the evidence-based practice of using lifestyle interventions, specifically a whole food, plant-based diet, exercise, sleep and stress management, to prevent and reverse disease. “Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and inflammatory diseases are some of the most common diagnoses that I see,” Morris said. “A lot of people don’t realize the benefits of lifestyle change until they’ve had their first heart attack or they’ve been diagnosed with cancer.” But Morris wants her patients to avoid those fates, and that might be as simple as changing their nutrition. A plant-based diet is one that focuses on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, whole or minimally-processed foods as they exist in nature. “It takes effort to be healthy,” Morris said. “The biggest problem is a lack of awareness. A lot of people aren’t aware of how easy it is to reverse their heart disease, reverse their diabetes and feel better,” she continued. For parents, good nutrition is not only important for their health, but it sets up their children for a lifetime of good health as well.


* For More Information, Contact:

 Melinda Krigel, Media Relations/UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, (510) 428-3069