Allowing Pharmacists To “Prescribe” Produce To Help Lower Blood Pressure

NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE

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New York City’s novel “Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions” program has a double benefit—providing SNAP recipients with the means to buy heart-healthy fruits and vegetables and a great incentive to fill their high blood pressure prescriptions.

Photo: woman reaching for healthy fruits and vegetables

September 24, 2019

Having high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, but eating fruits and vegetables every day can help lower that risk. In New York City, 1 in 4 adults have high blood pressure and 1 in 5 receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Knowing that many of their residents with high blood pressure could not afford healthy produce, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health Department) expanded their successful farmer’s market Health Bucksexternal icon program to allow pharmacists to “prescribe” fruits and vegetables to SNAP recipients who have high blood pressure. Health Bucks are $2 coupons that can be used to purchase produce at a nearby farmers market.

Through the Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptionsexternal icon program, pharmacists can issue $30 a month in Health Bucks to SNAP recipients who come into their pharmacy to fill a doctor’s prescription for high blood pressure medication. And it’s making a difference—pharmacy staff have reported that patients tell them they are trying new produce and shopping at farmers markets for the first time as a result of program participation. The program, piloted in 2017 at 3 pharmacies and increased to 10 pharmacies in 2018, recently was expanded to 16 drugstores. Health Bucks can be used at 142 farmers markets across the five boroughs to buy fruits and vegetables. Sixty percent of New York City’s farmers markets are located in high-poverty neighborhoods, helping ensure that all New Yorkers—regardless of income—have access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Signs of success for Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions, so far—

  • Over 1,000 low-income residents enrolled
  • More than $85,000 in Health Bucks distributed to program participants
  • Nearly 90% of Health Bucks issued to program participants are redeemed for fruits and vegetables
  • Pharmacy staff have reported that patients have told them they are eating more fruits and vegetables

The first of its kind in the nation, this NYC Health Department program is an example of how creative policy-making can have a positive impact on people who don’t normally have the means to buy expensive foods, while incentivizing them to fill their high blood pressure prescriptions and create healthy habits. Health Bucks provides New Yorkers in need with increased access to healthy food which can improve health outcomes, while connecting community members to their neighborhood farmers market.

For more information:

Nicole Andersen, MS, RD, Senior Manager, Nutrition Incentives Portfolio
NYC Health Departmentexternal icon

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Page last reviewed: September 24, 2019