Social Prescribing Gaining Ground

Social prescribing is an approach that connects people to activities, groups, and services in their community to meet the practical, social and emotional needs that affect their health and wellbeing, including healthy food.

Following pilot schemes in the UK some U.S. health care providers have been experimenting with the idea.

Under “food is medicine” programs, free, healthy food has been provided to patients with many improvements observed.

The health of people with diabetes, hypertension and obesity improved when they could get free fruits and vegetables with a prescription from their doctors and other health professionals. Improvements were seen in patients’ blood glucose levels, blood pressure and their body mass index.

A report, linked below, reveals the data and was the largest analysis to date of ‘food is medicine’ and similar prescription programs in the US.

These programs let patients with diet-related illnesses get apples, broccoli, berries, cucumbers and other kinds of fruits and vegetables for free.

Participants studied selected the produce of their choice at grocery stores or farmers markets using electronic cards or vouchers. They typically received around US$65 per month for 4 to 10 months. Participants in these programs ate more fruits and vegetables and were one-third less likely to experience food insecurity, which is defined as not having enough food to meet basic needs and lead a healthy life.

While the emphasis here is in food prescribing, there are many other areas where support beyond medicine can have beneficial impact. Prescribing fitness courses, cookery classes, home adaptations have all resulted in positive health outcomes.

Advocacy Action – Is social prescribing practised within your health care system? Could the examples of where it has been successful be used where you are? What are the barriers that need to be overcome to help patients obtain the most appropriate support to meet the challenges of their condition?