Can a prescription for fresh food cure what ails you?

By Melissa Blouin • Published: July 7th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A bad diet can bring with it a host of ills, including heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Now a new kind of pharmacy operated by Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania is offering a different kind of prescription to help people with these conditions: It prescribes fresh food to patients and offers a meeting with a registered dietitian, recipes and hands-on instruction on how to prepare healthy meals. Patients leave this pharmacy with five days’ worth of fresh food.

While prescribing food may sound expensive, consider the alternative: Costs associated with Type 2 diabetes exceed $240 billion a year in the U.S. This suggests that daily drugs and frequent doctor visits for chronically ill patients may add up to much more than covering a weekly grocery bill.

But will prescribing fresh foods work? A study of people at risk for Type 2 diabetes suggests it might. In the National Institutes of Health-funded trial called the Diabetes Prevention Program, researchers randomly assigned more than thirty-two-hundred participants at risk of developing diabetes to three different groups. The first group received intensive coaching in lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and behavior modification. The second and third groups received the diabetes drug metformin and a placebo, respectively, as well as information on diet and exercise. The people who were coached to change their lifestyle without medicine reduced their risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The participants who took metformin lowered their risk by 31 percent.

So, if you find yourself at risk for chronic health problems, it may be worth looking at your grocery cart while you are consulting your doctor.