Department of Veterans Affairs health care systems in Houston and Salt Lake City will provide veterans with fresh fruit and vegetables as well as nutrition coaching to test whether produce prescriptions can improve the health of people with diet-related health conditions. 

Some 500 veterans will get produce benefits worth $100 a month for up to a year through the Fresh Connect program, which provides debit-type cards to beneficiaries. The research is expected to take another year to complete, according to a VA official. 

The pilot projects are co-sponsored by the VA and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Researchers at the University of Utah will evaluate the impact of the projects on health care costs as well as the health of the vets.  Under an agreement between the foundation and the VA, the researchers will have access to patient records. 

A previous VA project offered produce prescriptions worth $40 a month to veterans in North Carolina, but didn't include the formal evaluation. 

The projects are part of a larger effort known as “food is medicine,” which is supported by the Biden administration and has its roots in the AIDS epidemic when volunteers delivered meals to patients as a way to deal with the side effects they faced. 

Getting Medicaid and Medicare and private health plans to cover produce prescriptions will require extensive research to document that the dietary changes can make a meaningful change in health outcomes. There is more research already done on the broader concept of medically tailored meals. 

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One VA study found 86% of veterans were overweight or obese at their first visit to a Veterans Health Administration clinic.

“We know good food is the foundation of good health, and study after study has found food is medicine interventions improve health outcomes and cut health care costs,” said Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation.

“I am proud the Foundation will be collaborating to help make Veterans’ lives healthier and more food secure. This partnership will help to accelerate our understanding and use of these programs as an integral part of health care delivery.” 

The Rockefeller Foundation, American Heart Association and the grocery giant Kroger announced a $250 million food is medicine research initiative last year.

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