Photo credit: Natalie Maynor/ Flickr

In the spirit of “let food be thy medicine,” the city is giving low-income New Yorkers who battle high blood pressure a “prescription” for fruits and vegetables.

The NYC Health Department announced on Wednesday the expansion of its “Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions” program, an initiative that issues $30 a month in Health Bucks to people with a doctor’s prescription to treat high blood pressure, who then can use these coupons to purchase produce at a nearby farmers’ market.

Brooklynites, who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, can enroll for the program and fill their prescription for high blood pressure medication at a partnering independent pharmacy. Currently, there are four participating pharmacies in Brooklyn: Park Drugs in Crown Heights as well as Whitman Pharmacy, Myrtle Drug Care and Brooklyn Center Pharmacy in Fort Greene.

“The food we eat really can change our health,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “That’s what makes it so unjust that people’s access to healthy food is influenced by their income. We’re making it easier for New Yorkers who need it most to afford more fresh produce.”

The pilot, which first launched in 2017 at three pharmacies and grew to ten pharmacies in 2018, will now expand to 16 drugstores, the department announced. In 2018, all 142 farmers’ markets across the five boroughs – 60 percent of which were located in high-poverty neighborhoods – accepted Health Bucks. 

In New York City, one in four adults has high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Eating fruits and vegetables every day can lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers.

NYC Health Bucks. Source: NYC Health Department

Health Bucks launched in 2005 to help SNAP benefit recipients to buy fresh, locally-grown produce. For every $5 spent at farmers’ markets using SNAP on an EBT card, New Yorkers can get $2 in Health Bucks. Since the program’s launch, over $900,000 annually in Health Bucks has been distributed to program participants.

“I’ve often said that when it comes to some chronic diseases, it’s not our DNA, it’s our dinner,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “A healthy diet can actually reverse many diseases, where medication may just manage them. The Pharmacy to Farm Prescription program gives people another tool in their toolbox to seize control of their health, and reveal the transformative power of fresh produce.”

To sign up for Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions, visit a participating pharmacy, which can be located on the Health Bucks page.

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