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Doctor's Orders: Program Prescribes Fresh Fruits, Vegetables to Idahoans

Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force
Cliff's Country Market in Caldwell, Idaho, was among the stores that participated in the Prescription for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program.

A pilot program that prescribes a trip to the produce aisle has been a success in Idaho.

The Nebraska- based Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition evaluated the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force's Prescription for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program, which offers vouchers to food-insecure patients with diabetes and pre-diabetes. It found significant improvements in participants' health. Julie Walker is manager of diabetes education at Saint Luke's Humphreys Diabetes Center in Boise. She said there was a lot of positive feedback, including from a young woman with Type 1 diabetes.

"She had called and wanted to know if there was any way she could get re-enrolled in the program because she really attributed that to her success in reducing her A1C, and if she could be re-enrolled again it would really be helpful. And fortunately, she was," said Walker.

A1C levels measure a person's blood sugar. Walker said levels above seven significantly increase the risk of nerve damage, and the woman's A1C was cut from nine to six-point-three during the program. The evaluation found participants' A1C levels dropped by an average of 13 percent over the course of the program.

Cliff Metcalf is the owner of Cliff's Country Market in Caldwell and accepted vouchers for the program.

"We ring it up like a regular transaction, they give us the vouchers instead of cash, and then they go home with some really good produce," said Metcalf.

Metcalf said people get the vegetables and then find out they like them more than the sugary foods they're used to buying.

Christina Tierney, manager of the program at the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force, said the budget for fresh foods is often the first thing to go when people are experiencing food insecurity. She said a lack of these healthy foods in people's diets is tied to diseases like diabetes.

"What we've proven through the Prescription for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables is that access to fresh fruits and vegetables actually can reverse those diagnoses and bring down the A1C levels," said Tierney.