Preventing Childhood Obesity

Prescription for Health: Fruit and Vegetables

With food insecurity on the rise, Connecticut Children’s developed and launched a new effort to provide fruit and vegetable prescriptions to families visiting the Emergency Department that screen positive for food insecurity. The goal is to meet families’ needs and increase healthy eating by providing a prescription for health.

The Start Childhood Off Right program at Connecticut Children’s received a Cigna Healthier Kids For Our Future grant to fund the prescription for health program. Families that visit Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department during select days and times are asked if they would like to participate in the screening. If the answer is yes, the families are asked two questions from the Hunger Vital Sign screener:

  • Within the past 12 months, we worried about whether our food would run out, before we got money to buy more: often true, sometimes true, never true.
  • Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to buy more: often true, sometimes true, never true.

If a family answers “often” or “sometimes true” to either question, it is considered a positive screen and they are asked follow up questions. Those who screen positive are provided with a $20 voucher, which they are able to redeem right outside the Emergency Department entrance on Mondays and Thursdays at a Harford Food System fruit and vegetable stand or at other Hartford Food System mobile market locations around the city. Start Childhood Off Right is also reaching out to other community partners to expand voucher redemption opportunities. 

“With the pandemic and then inflation, we’ve seen rising rates of food insecurity,” said Nancy Trout, MD, MPH, a Primary Care Pediatrician and Co-director of the Start Childhood Off Right program. “We are hoping to meet the acute food insecurity needs of patients and families by offering them fresh fruits and vegetables so they can have enough food to eat, while also promoting healthy eating and connecting them to other food resources.”

The fruit and vegetable stand is staffed by Hartford Food System’s mobile market, which sets up in locations around Hartford to increase access to healthy food for residents.

“This is our first time at Connecticut Children’s,” said Josh Berman, who is the Managing Director of Hartford Food System. “We’re really grateful for the partnership with Connecticut Children’s and for their commitment to addressing food insecurity and elevating that as an important issue for our community.”

While some are surprised to see a fresh fruit and vegetable stand outside Connecticut Children’s, reaction from the families who screen positive for food insecurity and receive a prescription for health has been positive.

“When people spend their full $20, they walk away from the table with three to four full bags of produce,” said Alyssa Jones, who is the Manager of Food Access Initiatives at Hartford Food System. “People have been aghast with what the value looks like. I definitely think it has been a pleasant surprise for everybody who stopped by the table for sure.”

“It’s about making sure food is available in places where community members are already traveling to, already spending their time, and it’s about being able to provide a high value to those community members,” said Berman.

Fruit and vegetables are not only available to families that screen positive for food insecurity – anyone working at Connecticut Children’s or visiting the area is able to purchase food at the stand. In addition to taking cash and credit cards, the mobile market also accepts SNAP benefits at double their value.

Chelsea Burba, of West Hartford, stopped by the fruit and vegetable stand to pick up her favorites after her daughter’s appointment at Connecticut Children’s.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Chelsea. “We just came off of three years of being on food stamps after a sudden divorce. Before that, we were secure. I know firsthand that it was hard to eat healthy during that time, having come from a family that had enough means to eat healthy prior. Now we’re back on our feet and we’re paying cash, but either way it’s good to have it as an option for everybody.”

The grant runs through December 31, 2022 with the potential for being renewed.

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