LA County produce prescription project aims to address food insecurity in low-income families

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Friday, August 19, 2022
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The high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables will keep some families from ever knowing the value those foods can have on overall health. That's why the Los Angeles County Health Department has implemented the produce prescription project.

The high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables will keep some families from ever knowing the value those foods can have on overall health. That's why the Los Angeles County Health Department has implemented the produce prescription project.

"Food insecurity can have devastating health consequences," said Dipa Shah, the program director for the L.A. County Health Department's Nutrition and Physical Activity Program.

Fresh and Healthy is a partnership with the Northeast Valley Health Corporation, along with other agencies, to increase the purchasing of fresh fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers.

Eligible participants like Rosalina Michel receive an electronic debit card with $40 per month for six months. The cards can only be used for fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores. Frozen, canned, or fruits and vegetables with added sugar are not eligible for purchase with the cards.

"Our health educators do an amazing job in teaching them how to consume different veggies or fruits that may not be common in their household and the best part is it's free to them. It's no cost," explained Denise Torres, the Northeast Valley Health Corporation Community Wellness Program Manager.

Near tears, program participant Rosalina Michel explained the changes she has seen: "I feel... I feel wonderful. After so many years."

For families facing food insecurity, buying something they might not eat is a financial risk. But the hope with the produce prescription project is, by providing $40 a month, families will try foods that are good for them, foods they didn't realize are also... good.

"They might develop a taste for it, they might realize 'I really love cauliflower,' 'I really love asparagus' and they could continue to use their own money after the program is over to continue with those great habits," said Shah.

Michel certainly saw a change.

"I actually experimented vegetables that I have never eaten or cooked before like asparagus, beets... you know I love bell peppers."

Since the program began in 2021, over 500 participants have enrolled and data is being analyzed as to its success. For Michel, who was at risk of becoming diabetic when she began the project, the food and guidance she has been given dramatically improved her physical health and that of her family.

"We've been happier. We've been healthier. We have more energy now. I can join my family, my grandkids and my husband out for a walk, out to the beach to walk more," she said.

And Torres believes that will help others make healthy changes as well.

"Now she's helping us spread all this education and educate other family members as well."

Another benefit to paying $40 a month to help people buy more fruits and vegetables is that the program could pay for itself over time by reducing the overall cost of treating diet-related health conditions.