Farmers' market brings fresh produce to patients

It's an epidemic of epic portions. The CDC estimates about 35% of all Americans are obese. But a recent study shows the number could actually be 60%. that means more of us could be at risk for serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

To fight the problem and the healthcare costs that come with it. One doctor has launched a unique program she hopes will catch on across America: fresh fruits and veggies grown locally.

It looks like a neighborhood farmers' market, but it's actually inside a health clinic. Jamaica Fite is here for her monthly doctor's visit.

"Today, I got some strawberries. My kids love strawberries,” said Jamaica Fite. “Coming right out from an appointment where they're discussing health and eating proper, I think this is the best place to have something like this."

She lives in an area where fresh produce is not readily available.

"But you know what's so easy to get? Burgers, french fries," said Fite

"You can probably drive for more than a mile and not see a full service grocery store," said Ann Smith Barnes, Md, MPH, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

What has come to be known as a food desert, is mainly in low0income communities.

"I spend my clinic time telling people to eat healthy food and if they don't have access, I realized that I was really spinning my wheels," said Dr. Barnes.

So the doctor is bringing produce to her patients. She says many don't have ways to get to the grocery store.

"But they do find a way to get to their clinic appointments," she said.

There, they pay the same for fresh fruits and vegetables as they would for an item off a fast food dollar menu.

A study shows that the combined national healthcare cost of obese and overweight Americans, is $114 billion.

Barnes says that if the farmers' markets can help 20% of the obese population in the clinics move into the less-dangerous overweight category, "we could save about $20 million in our healthcare system."

Money that could be spent on being proactive instead of reactive.

"We don't want to just be known for taking care of the sick well,” said Dr. Barnes. “We want to be known for promoting health and wellness in our community."

So far, patients have purchased more than twenty tons of healthy food at the clinic. Dr. Barnes said, other healthcare systems have expressed interest in adopting her farmers' market idea. Right now, the farmers' market rotates between five clinics during the week. The money it brings in helps pay people who man the stand and buys more fresh produce6/25/2012.

FOOD DESERTS: The steady suburbanization of major food retailers is contributing to the emergence of urban "food deserts," areas within city centers where low-income people have poor access to vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods. Because many chronic diseases have been associated with low consumption of vegetables and fruits, along with high consumption of sugary or high-fat foods, urban food deserts may be taking a health toll on those who live in socially deprived neighborhoods.
(Source: Urban Issues: "The Sprawl of Food Deserts," M. Nathaniel Mead)

The FDA has developed a "Food Desert Locator" that allows anyone to find food deserts and learn more about them:

THE HIGH COST OF UNHEALTHY EATING: A large review was devised to estimate per-person and aggregate direct medical costs of overweight and obesity and to examine the effect of study design factors. Results were standardized to compute the incremental cost per overweight person and per obese person, and to compute the national aggregate cost. A total of 33 US studies met review criteria. Among the four highest quality studies, the 2008 per-person direct medical cost of overweight was $266 and of obesity was $1,723. The aggregate national cost of overweight and obesity combined was $113.9 billion. Depending on the source of total national healthcare expenditures used, the direct medical cost of overweight and obesity combined is approximately 5.0% to 10% of US healthcare spending.
(Source: "Direct medical cost of overweight and obesity in the USA: a quantitative systematic review"

PHYSICIANS AND FARMERS' MARKETS: Healthy Harvest is a collaborative effort between the Harris County Hospital District (HCHD) and Veggie Pals, Inc., a not-for-profit organization in Houston, Texas, to help children and families make healthy food choices and to educate them on the look, feel, taste and importance of eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Launched as a pilot initiative in November, 2011, and led by Dr. Ann Barnes, director of Weight Management Services and Disease Prevention for HCHD and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, these weekly fresh produce markets are held at HCHD community health centers located in underserved areas throughout Harris County.
(Source: Harris County Hospital District)

For More Information, Contact:

Ann Smith Barnes, MD, MPH
Baylor College of Medicine
(713) 873-2934

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