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Seattle launches fresh produce “prescription” program

Fresh Bucks Rx emphasizes connection between health and diet

FB_logo_largeThe City of Seattle—along with Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, Harborview Medical Center, and Seattle and King County farmers markets and farm stands—has launched Fresh Bucks Rx, a program aimed at improving health outcomes for low-income patients with diet-related disease.

Fresh Bucks Rx builds on Seattle’s successful Fresh Bucks food access program which provides a dollar-for-dollar match—up to $10 per day—of SNAP (food stamp) benefits spent at participating farmers markets. The Rx refers to the fact that participating health care providers can “prescribe” fruits and vegetables to their patients and give them a voucher to redeem at farmers markets or farm stands.

“The success and growth of the Fresh Bucks program has clearly demonstrated that healthy, local food is important to our residents with low-incomes,” said Jessica Finn Coven, Director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment. “We continue to look for ways to foster better health outcomes in our community and are pleased to pursue another opportunity to achieve this goal.”

Recognizing that food insecurity and lack of access to healthy food is a key factor in diet-related diseases, but that food isn’t currently covered as “medicine” in our health care system, Fresh Bucks Rx helps build healthy food access into health care visits. It provides an entrance point for medical providers to talk with patients about nutrition and food insecurity, along with actual support for families to buy healthy food—in the form of Fresh Bucks vouchers.

“As physicians, our job is to help people get healthier. Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the key actions a person can take to improve their physical and mental health,” said Dr. Ben Danielson, Medical Director, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.  “As a doctor, I am thrilled that I can now prescribe better nutrition and feel confident I am giving my patients an avenue to achieve that.”

Food insecurity is a real and growing problem for many in Seattle and affects many communities of color disproportionately. Data released last year showed that that Hispanic adults were impacted almost three times more than white or Asian adults; multiracial, black and Native American/Alaska Native adults also experienced food hardship at disproportionate rates. Studies have also shown that people living in food insecure households reduce, skip, delay or use lower-cost medications to compensate for lack of household resources to purchase food.

“The Fresh Bucks Rx program addresses such a critical need in our community,” said Lottie Cross, Director of Clean Greens Farm and Market. “Not only does it help keep individuals healthy, it helps keep our community healthy by supporting local farmers and organizations. We’re so happy to be able to serve people through this program.”

The Fresh Bucks Rx program is funded by a federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70018-23357.  The Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment is the King County lead for this 4-year, statewide grant that was awarded to Washington State Department of Health in 2015.

More information on the Fresh Bucks program can be found here.  More information on Washington’s FINI grant work can be found here.