Two boroughs in London that through the years have experienced high levels of chronic disease will be part of a trial launched by Alexandra Rose Charity to boost health outcomes through prescriptive use of fresh produce.
The Charity, working with public health teams in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets, have unveiled Fruit & Veg Prescription, a £250,000 campaign that aims to see how well expanded consumption of produce can change the health of citizens while lowering illness and food insecurity.
Given the strains inflation is putting on family budgets, especially those in underserved communities, the timing couldn’t be better.
“Fruit & Veg on Prescription is an idea whose time has come,” said Jonathan Pauling, Chief Executive at Alexandra Rose Charity. “The cost of living crisis is worsening and exacerbating rising levels of diet-related ill health and food insecurity. When calories from unhealthy food are three times cheaper than healthy alternatives, it makes sense that people will prioritise being full rather than being healthy, but this only stores up problems for the future.”
Pauling says the lack of quality food being consumed by Brits has wide-reaching impacts beyond individual households.
“Diet-related ill health is costing the NHS billions every year, but more importantly, it is limiting the life chances of people on low incomes,” he said. “We hope that the Fruit & Veg on Prescription Project will make a healthy diet easier to access for people who are struggling.”
Here’s how the scheme will work. More than 100 participants will receive as much as £8 per week, plus £2 for each household member in Rose Vouchers for fruits and vegetables over the next year. Those will be honoured at both local retailers and market traders.
In Tower Hamlets, those taking part can also engage in “monthly healthy lifestyle group sessions to improve their understanding of nutrition and health.” The Charity notes that Tower Hamlets has the highest poverty rate (39%), child poverty rate (56%) and income inequality of all London boroughs.
The Alexandra Rose Charity has been working on similar initiatives for the past eight years, but this is by far its biggest and one of the largest trials of this kind ever in the UK. The hope is that through “prescriptive nutrition”, the areas impacted can lower the risks of premature deaths and illnesses.
“So many long and short-term illnesses deteriorate significantly with a poor diet,”” said Professor Sir Sam Everington, a GP in Bromley by Bow, Chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, and Vice President of the British Medical Association. “A healthy diet can often achieve far more than any medicines I can prescribe as a GP. Therefore, fruit and veg prescriptions are essential in reversing and preventing many illnesses. When I trained over 40 years ago, Type 2 Diabetes was a disease of the elderly. We are now seeing it in teenagers. Much of it is preventable with a healthy diet and good regular exercise. Fruit and veg should be part of every prescription.”
If successful and depending on funding, similar trials could be rolled out across the UK.
When the pilot is evaluated, it could be rolled out across the UK subject to funding. But the Charity says the time is now for government to act, imploring leaders to “implement the recommendations of the National Food Strategy quickly.”