Fresh, local produce is Rx for obesity

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Aug. 23, 2011
Lucille Strietelmeier of East Hartford chats with Kyra Coughlin of Griswold at the Norwich Farmers' Market at Brown Park. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Lucille Strietelmeier of East Hartford chats with Kyra Coughlin of Griswold at the Norwich Farmers' Market at Brown Park. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Fresh, locally-grown fruits and veggies may be on a few more tables in Norwich this summer and fall, thanks to an initiative by William Backus Hospital.

Doctors at Backus, in partnership with United Community and Family Services (UCFS) and Generations Family Health Center, are being encouraged to write “prescriptions” to the Norwich Farmers’ Market for families whose children are at risk for obesity. Those prescriptions are backed up by $20 vouchers that families can spend at the market on fresh produce.

Backus spokesman Shawn Mawhiney said that this year’s annual fundraising appeal at the hospital focused on obesity as “one of the biggest health threats in the area.” Funds from that appeal are being channeled into the voucher program. “We thought that would be a great way to use our donor dollars,” he said.

UCFS provided a table at the farmers’ market, featuring handouts on nutritious meal planning and recipes for preparing fresh produce for the dinner table. A Backus Hospital van, staffed by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA), offered visitors further advice on good nutrition.

There are many reasons why families bypass fresh produce for processed foods that increase their risk of obesity, Mawhiney said. Getting to local farm stands can be difficult without transportation.

Families may find it’s easier and more convenient to buy processed foods. Many families aren’t familiar with how to cook or prepare fresh produce, said Backus Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Keith Fontaine.

Cost can be one of the biggest issues. “The best food is the most expensive,” said Tamara Carey, a nutritionist for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Fresh, organic produce is typically more expensive than processed food, she said.

Carey said that by teaming up with Backus and providing nutrition education to go along with the vouchers, WIC can help families set better nutrition goals and “realize they can provide healthy food for their families.”

Mawhiney said that the hospital is trying to target at least 50 families with as much as $100 in vouchers in $2 increments. That would spell at least $20 to spend weekly on a farmers’ market visit, he said. By the time of last week’s market, doctors had written nearly a dozen “prescriptions” for produce, Mawhiney said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) was among the customers at the market Aug. 17, and he had high praise for the Backus initiative.

“The hospital is really being very smart and visionary in this,” he said. Food and nutrition are key ingredients, on both state and national levels, in promoting better health and bringing down health care costs, he said.

Backus, Courtney added, is “putting their money where their mouth is. That’s really impressive.”

Let us know what you think!
Please be as specific as possible.
Include your name and email if you would like a response back.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the code without spaces and pay attention to upper/lower case.