Fresh Produce Prescription Program Helps Food-Insecure Patients

Nov 16, 2018

A fresh food prescription program called Produce Connect is showing promising results at reducing food insecurity and improving health outcomes.

The partnership between the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and PrimaryOne Health screens patients and connects those who are food insecure with fresh produce. Nutrition manager David Brewer says the program is helping patients with diabetes and those with weight problems.

“The patients that use the produce connect more often are actually getting progressively better health outcomes—it’s dependent on the dose, how many times they use it,” he says.

Participants who visit at least monthly lost about 11 pounds in a year. Diabetic patients who visited at least three times saw their hemoglobin A1C levels drop slightly. The measure of average blood glucose rose for patients who visited fewer times.

Mid-Ohio Foodbank executive director Matt Habash says the initiative is cheaper than other clinical interventions.

“You know in our world, it’s surplus food sitting in fields,” he says. “Why not use it to have good positive health outcomes? And we’re proving that works every day.”

The idea began as a pilot program in 2015. State Sen. Charleta Tavares - who serves as CEO of the Columbus Neighborhood Health Center - says there were hurdles at the outset. Operating from one location made access difficult, but as the effort has expanded to new locations the patient pool has grown, too.

Amy Headings, who leads the program for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, says they now serve about 9,000 patients in the region. And because they’re showing positive outcomes with so many patients, she suggests the program could work well with even larger groups.

“You know it’s in a large group of people—not just 100 or 200,” Headings explains. "And so if we can scale this to 50,000, 100,000 people we have the potential to see major impact in diabetes outcomes across Ohio and across the U.S.”

Organizers say about 40 percent of people who are prescribed fresh food visit a pantry, and since August 2016, the program has resulted in nearly 30,000 visits.