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NYC Health + Hospitals Launches Produce Prescription Program Study To Improve the Health of Children With Overweight and Obesity

'Food for Health' study is the first of its kind in the nation and will provide families at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens with free home delivery of locally-grown fruits and vegetables

Study is funded in large part by the New York Health Foundation and the Mayor's Fund to Advance NYC; Brooklyn-based 'Farm to People' will provide fresh produce

Jun 02, 2022

New York, NY

NYC Health + Hospitals today announced the launch of ‘Food for Health,’ an innovative new research study to measure the dietary and health impact of a produce prescription program for children aged 2 to 8 years old with overweight or obesity who are at risk of chronic diseases later in life. Considered the first study of its kind in the nation, this randomized, controlled trial will enroll more than 250 families whose children receive pediatric care at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens. Families who enroll will receive a doctor’s prescription for fruits and vegetables for their child, and families randomized to the ‘Food for Health’ group will also receive 24 weeks of free home delivery of locally-grown produce. The study will test if removing financial, transportation, and access barriers to fresh produce improves children’s diets and health and supports the development of long-term healthy eating habits.

“Healthy food is medicine that all New Yorkers should have access to,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This is personal to me – a plant-based lifestyle helped save my life, and I’m thrilled that over 125 families will be able to participate in this exciting pilot. Through innovative programs like ‘Food for Health,’ we will stop feeding the health care crisis and ensure all New Yorkers can access the healthy lifestyle they deserve.”

“It is imperative that health systems begin to address the root causes of illness, and a healthy diet is key to preventing chronic illnesses in adults as well as children. When young children learn about healthy foods and create healthy habits early in life it sets the foundation for healthy lifestyles as they grow,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Vice President and Chief Population Health Officer Nichola Davis, MD, MS. “Understanding how we can impact children’s diets by eliminating the many barriers to healthy eating that many of our patients face – financial, access, and transportation – is critical. I look forward to what we will learn from the results of this pilot, and how these results will shape our approach to population health.”

“We’ve known for some time the importance of instilling proper nutritional habits in young children, so they will be equipped to lead healthier lives as adults,” said NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens CEO Neil J. Moore, MBA, MPA, FACHE. “The Food for Health program is compatible with efforts already established at Queens, such as the Pediatric Department’s Healthy Lifestyles program and our recently launched plant-based meals for patients. By providing our youngest patients with the experiences and education they need to make quality nutritional choices, we are laying the groundwork for them to make thoughtful nutritional decisions that will have a positive and lasting impact on their lives.”

All participating families will also receive educational materials on healthy eating, child-friendly recipes for meals and snacks, and child-safe cooking equipment to encourage children to participate in preparing their food. The fresh produce will be provided by ‘Farm to People,’ a Brooklyn-based company that sources its food from over 150 farmers located in and around New York City.

The Food for Health study is a randomized, controlled trial that is open to families with a child between the ages of 2 and 8 with overweight or obesity who is currently receiving care at the pediatric clinic at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens. Childhood is a critical time for developing healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. These habits affect child growth, development, and overall health, and can help prevent overweight, obesity, and other diet-related chronic diseases.

“Food for Health’s innovation and potential impact lie in its support of healthy eating for young children at risk of chronic diseases – rather than treating individuals once they are diagnosed with a chronic disease – as well as in its direct provision of fruits and vegetables to families with young children,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Director of Research and Evaluation in the Office of Ambulatory Care and Population Health, and Food for Health Study Director Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, MPH, CPH. “We know that produce prescription programs can be effective in improving the diet and health of adults, but there is little evidence of how these programs affect children and their families – and Food for Health will help to fill that gap.”

Almost 40 percent of New York City public school students are overweight or obese, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and more than 1 in 4 children under the age of 12 who receive care at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens has obesity. The ‘Food for Health’ study will test if providing home delivery of fruits and vegetables increases the amount of fruits and vegetables children and their families eat and improves children’s health. Participating families will complete surveys that include questions on child and caregiver diets, caregiver food preparation habits, and family food security; surveys will be filled out at enrollment, after 6 months, and again after 9 months to assess individual changes and differences between the two study groups. Children’s height and weight will also be analyzed to determine the impact of fruit and vegetable home delivery on children’s health. The study team will also get feedback from participating families and clinic staff to understand their experience with the program to help refine it and inform expansion of the program to other NYC Health + Hospitals facilities in the future.

“We are gratified to be the host institution for this wonderful study that aims to inform the impact of a home delivery produce prescription program on fruit and vegetable consumption and dietary quality in young children,” said NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens Director of Pediatrics Marcy Stein Albert, MD. “In the Pediatric Department at Queens we have been early adapters of the ethos ‘quality nutrition is preventive medicine’ and have implemented many programs that aim to establish healthy habits in early childhood to effect wellness over the life course.”

‘Food for Health’ is supported in large part by a grant from the New York Health Foundation’s Healthy Food, Healthy Lives program, which supports policies and programs that connect people to healthy and affordable food. The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City also awarded ‘Food for Health’ a grant to support the purchase of the fruit and vegetable boxes.

“Food is Medicine programs are proven to support healthy eating in adults,” said New York Health Foundation President and CEO David Sandman. “This rigorously designed pilot will build the evidence for how to extend their benefits to children and help them develop healthy eating habits for life.”

“Access to healthy food and fresh produce at an early age will go a long way in preventing chronic illness later in life,” said Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City Executive Director Daniele Baierlein. “The Mayor’s Fund is proud to partner with NYC Health + Hospitals and the New York Health Foundation to provide our youngest and most vulnerable with a produce prescription program with educational resources that will put them on a path for a healthy lifestyle.”

“From day one our mission has been to improve our food system by making great food more accessible — partnering on the Food for Health program is definitely another significant step towards that goal. Not to mention we’re able to forecast demand more precisely, which in turn lessens operational and financial stress on our farmers,” said Farm to People Head of Business Development Felix Dechant. “Additionally, with more Farm Boxes going out the door our delivery routes will be denser, helping us reduce our carbon footprint. We couldn’t be more thrilled to participate in a program that aligns so well with our core values.”

“There is growing evidence that produce prescriptions are a bridge between good food and health, and that they should be a part of everyday health care delivery,” said The Rockefeller Foundation Vice President for Food Devon Klatell. “We’re thrilled New York City Health and Hospitals will offer home delivery of fresh, locally grown food to children and their families though the ‘Food for Health’ study. The results will advance our understanding of this innovative approach’s potential for improving health outcomes and health equity.”

“Nothing is more important to future health than access to diets rich in health-promoting foods just when likes and dislikes are formed for a lifetime,” said Food & Society at the Aspen Institute Executive Director Corby Kummer. “Our Food is Medicine Research Action Plan—the first-ever summary of all peer-reviewed research into medically tailored meals, medically tailored groceries, and produce prescriptions to date—shows the power of food to reverse and slow the damaging effects of diet-related chronic illness. Best of all is never to get those illnesses in the first place! That’s why we’re so excited about NYC Health + Hospitals’ pioneering new study combining medically tailored groceries and produce prescriptions—a powerful new approach right in line with our Action Plan’s finding that medically tailored groceries hold the most promise for cost-effective ways to better health. We can’t wait to see the results, and hope other cities follow in New York City’s footsteps.”

“The best way to combat childhood obesity and ensure a healthy lifestyle later in life is to develop healthy eating habits at a young age. By removing financial, transportation and access barriers to health, the Food for Health study looks to give at-risk children the resources they need to combat chronic disease,” said New York State Senator John C. Liu.

“Expanding access to healthy foods and nutrition is critical to improving the health of all New Yorkers, including young children,” said New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “The disparate impacts of the pandemic have illustrated the importance of tackling health disparities and access to healthy foods, particularly in neighborhoods with poor health outcomes. The launch of ‘Food for Health’ at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens is an important step to addressing longstanding inequities, and I look forward to seeing the impact it has on families participating in this study.” ​

“Obesity is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, as well as a host of other diseases. Eating a healthy diet and instilling healthy eating habits is key to preventing illness – especially in children. I applaud NYC Health & Hospitals and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC for spearheading this innovative study and look forward to seeing the results,” said New York City Council Member James F. Gennaro.