Avera Medical Minute: A closer look at ‘Food As Medicine’ study

Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 9:39 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Will an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

That’s one of the key questions being asked in a new study at the Avera Research Institute.

A Food as Medicine study aims to spark positive change for community health.

“Our study is called Food as Medicine. It is a produce prescription program that’s funded by USDA and really, we’re trying to aim at reducing food insecurity, increase fruit and vegetable consumption, and improve health outcomes,” said Christine Hockett with the Avera Research Institute.

A produce prescription program is exactly what it sounds like — subbing out pills and medications for apples and carrots. This allows researchers to look closer at the role those fresh fruits and veggies have on chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and obesity, specifically by removing the financial and logistical obstacles that keep patients from getting healthy meals on the table.

“This study in particular is aiming to identify whether or not the mode at which we deliver a produce prescription matters. So half of our participants, about 200 participants, will be randomized to an in-store, what we call a traditional in-store voucher method, and then the other 200 participants will be randomized to a produce box delivery,” said Hockett.

One of those participants is Lauren Bowman who’s been getting weekly home deliveries for the past three months.

“It’s just changed what I’ve eaten, and I’ve eaten more than what I thought I would. So it’s been really cool. And it’s like getting a present every week because you don’t ever know what’s going to be in your box. So it’s like a gift. I actually get excited. Every Friday mine comes, and I’m like, ‘What did I get this week?’ So yeah, I’m going to miss it when it’s done,” said Bowman.

For Lauren, those weekly presents have already made a lasting impact on her health.

“I have struggled with anorexia most of my adult life, and honestly, because I don’t have much money, it’s actually been hard for me to recover at times because I literally can’t afford the food. But it’s just really been a blessing for me because it takes that stress away — I can focus on my recovery and getting enough nutrition and the things that I need. It’s helped my recovery a lot, so I feel like I can actually eat more now than before because even just an extra 25 bucks a week, I mean, $100 a month for somebody that’s on a fixed income. I mean, that’s a lot,” said Bowman.

“Over the last couple of years, as inflation increases and food prices increase, we’re really trying to provide that incentive to be able to make that healthier choice and make that food environment easier for people to make healthier choices,” said Hockett.

Each participant is enrolled for a period of six months, where their health is monitored and checked at the Avera Research Institute. The study will run through 2025 and garner important data for state and local leaders to influence positive change on community health across our region.

“Yeah, it’s been really beneficial, and I think it would be super helpful for other people who are also in the same situation that I am,” said Bowman.

“If we can better understand the method of how these programs are delivered, then we can kind of make sure that we’re implementing the right type of program in communities to see the best outcomes,” said Hockett.

The Avera Research Institute partners with Sioux Falls Hy-Vee stores and the Sioux Falls Thrive Mobile Market to help source healthy produce for participants.

If you would like to see if you are eligible or would like more information on the study, visit Avera.org/medicalminute.