Can food really be our medicine?

Imagine the scenario: You’re in your doctor’s office facing health issues that include anything from extra weight, to high blood pressure, diabetes, or even arthritis. Instead of issuing you a prescription for medicine, or simply telling you eat better, the doctor hands you a prescription for healthy food. From there, you head to a local market to pick up your weekly dose of fresh fruits and vegetables. Healthy food becomes your medicine – and you’re able to access this food through your health care system.

Perscription Note 2This is exactly what some hospitals, non-profits and farmer’s markets are teaming up to do in cities across the US — through healthy food prescription programs. So far, I haven’t found any of these programs in Canada but please correct me if I’m mistaken! Instead of managing obesity and certain chronic diseases with medication, doctors (and the health care system they work within) are providing long term health solutions by supporting people to eat better.

Healthy food prescription programs are often designed to support some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities— such as seniors, and people living on low-incomes.  Due to a number of factors, it’s often these individuals and families that suffer from particularly high rates of chronic disease as well as other health disparities like food insecurity.

So my question to you is — Are we ready for this in Nova Scotia??

There seem to be ample reasons to consider it. For starters, NS has among the highest provincial food insecurity rates at 15%, with 1 in 5 children living in food insecure households. Rates of chronic illness (e.g., diabetes) and obesity are high, and according to Stats Canada, close to two-thirds of residents do not eat the recommended daily amounts  of fruits and vegetables. The cost of not taking action is high and there are many studies which connect high rates of chronic disease and rising health care costs. In Nova Scotia, the proportion of health spending in our provincial budgets is a whopping 46%, with higher costs for food insecure individuals. To add further perspective, just a tiny fraction of this (roughly 1.5%) goes towards public health and prevention initiatives. It’s definitely time to think differently about health care spending, and focus more of our efforts on preventative care.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 2.27.42 PMHaving worked across the domains of community development and food security for over ten years, I know that there will never be a “magic bullet” for ensuring the health and well-being of all people. The issues are complex and the solutions are many. That said, healthy food prescription programs are part of a suite of innovative ideas that are transforming the way we think and act on health promotion and care. What’s true for sure is that we’ll never know unless we try, and try again. We certainly have lots of examples to learn from.

Written by: Aimee Carson, Senior Food Coordintor

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