Editor’s note: Bread Blog is running a weekly, year-long series called the Nourishing Effect. It will explore how hunger affects health through the lens of the 2016 Hunger Report. The report is an annual publication of Bread for the World Institute.
By Derek Schwabe
It’s a common argument: the United States can’t have a hunger problem, because so many of us are overweight or obese. Ironically, food-insecure families are among the most vulnerable to obesity and its costly health consequences. Why? Because calories are cheap in the United States – it’s nutrients that are expensive. The video below, produced to accompany Bread for the World Institute’s 2016 Hunger Report, shares the story of a family who is living the seeming paradox of hunger and obesity, side by side.
The nonprofit organization Wholesome Wave has years of experience showing that the reverse is also true: enabling people who receive SNAP (formerly food stamps) to purchase healthy foods is a strike against obesity as well as hunger. Wholesome Wave, the Fair Food Network, and other partners pioneered the Double Value Coupon Program, which matched SNAP benefits used for fruits and vegetables. $10 in SNAP benefits became $20 worth of healthy foods.
In 2010, Wholesome Wave piloted FVRx® – a fruit and vegetable prescription program. The program enrolls overweight or obese children ages 2 to 18 for a period of up to six months. In addition to fruits and vegetables – $ 1 per day per person in the household – FVRx® includes help with setting healthy eating goals, nutrition education, and monthly visits with a primary care provider.
The program has grown rapidly, now hosting 18 FVRx® sites. The video below features the Washington, D.C., site. We meet Rosalia and her two sons, Juan and Jose, who were prescribed the program after their doctor noted that they were obese. The fruits and vegetables, increased physical activity, and wellness classes gave the family the support needed to improve the children’s diets and halt the rise of their body mass indexes.
The FVRx® program is working, and not just for Juan and Jose. A 2014 progress report from Wholesome Wave in New York City, for example, showed a dramatic change in grocery shopping habits among participants. Before the program, just 29 percent “very often” or “always” purchased fresh produce from farmers markets. In the post-program survey, this jumped to 76 percent. Even better, food security was strengthened – 62 percent of families reported getting “enough of the kinds of food we want to eat”, compared with 39 percent before the program began.
The FVRx success stories didn’t go unnoticed. The federal farm bill passed in 2014 included $100 million over four years in grants to create incentives for SNAP participants to purchase healthy foods at farmers markets. Like the Double Value Coupon Program, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program (FINI) enables people to double their purchasing power for fruits and vegetables. FINI helps fulfill society’s responsibility to ensure that people whose incomes are at or near the poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four) get enough nutritious food to eat.
Wholesome Wave’s goals for the future of FVRx® are visionary: “Our ultimate goal is to develop a model that is scalable…with high-profile implications for national replication and positioning partners as leaders in innovative treatment models.” Another top priority is to support local agriculture in producing more healthy foods. Wholesome Wave hopes the emphasis on prevention built into the Affordable Care Act will bolster that support.
Derek Schwabe is a research associate at Bread for the World Institute.