The Alexandra Rose Charity has launched a ‘Fruit and Veg on Prescription’ pilot project to tackle ill health and food poverty in deprived areas of the UK.
The charity has partnered with public health teams in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Lambeth to carry out the 12-month initiative. It says the project will be the first of its kind in the country to be implemented on such a scale.
During the trial period, Rose Vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables will be distributed to a target group of 122 residents in the two boroughs to test whether offering healthy foods on ‘prescription’ could tackle diet-related illness and food security in the long-term.
Eligible residents will be those on low incomes living with long-term diet-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or mental health conditions.
Those selected to take part will be prescribed vouchers worth up to £8 per week. They will also receive and additional £2 a week for each household member.
Participants can spend the money on fruit and vegetables of their choice with local retailers and market traders. In Tower Hamlets, residents will also be invited to join monthly healthy lifestyle group sessions to develop their knowledge on nutrition and health.
Tower Hamlets has the highest poverty rate, child poverty rate and income inequality in London. Lambeth also has a high rate of chronic disease and health inequality.
One of Tower Hamlet’s longest standing community centres, the Bromley by Bow Centre, and Lambeth’s The Beacon Project, will also assist in the delivery of the pilot.
The Beacon Project works predominantly with black African and Caribbean communities in Lambeth, which it says have experienced some of the highest levels of health inequality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With lack of trust being a major hurdle to accessing health services for these communities, the prescription concept aims to build a better relationship of trust and an improved understanding of health and nutrition, according to Alexandra Rose.
Dr Chi-Chi Ekhator, GP Lead at the Beacon Project and Vice-Chair of the Ascension Trust, said: “Fruit and Veg on prescription is absolutely key to tackling health inequalities in many vulnerable communities. As a GP, I continue to hear more and more from patients who have to make choices such as eating or heating as they grapple with the economic climate.
“Moreover, some are forced to forgo looking after their chronic diseases in the face of rising costs. It is not surprising that choosing to purchase fruits and vegetables becomes less of a priority.
“This scheme aims to help those who are most vulnerable achieve better control of their health through lifestyle choices that are evidenced based and will indeed make a huge difference not only to the individual but also to the NHS as a whole.”
The pilot’s launch comes as food prices continue to rise. This week, food inflation hit a record high of 14.7%, while last week it was reported that the price of fresh produce had soared by 13.3%.
Alexandra Rose has been running the Rose Vouchers for Fruit & Veg project since 2014 in eight locations around the UK including, Barnsley, Glasgow, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Liverpool, Southwark, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets. Unlike the ‘prescription’ pilot, these vouchers are only offered to families on low incomes to help provide their kids with healthy foods.
Earlier this year, researchers from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London recommended the introduction of the charity’s fruit and vegetable vouchers across the country to improve family’s access to nutritious food. The recommendation came as their report found low-income parents living in England tend to compensate for non-food related activities they cannot afford by purchasing unhealthy food ‘treats’.
The Alexandra Rose Charity says that prescribing fruit and vegetables using a social approach that considers someone’s “whole life situation” is key to preventing premature death and reducing healthcare costs.
“The cost of living crisis is worsening and exacerbating rising levels of diet-related ill health and food insecurity”, said Jonathan Pauling, Chief Executive at Alexandra Rose Charity.
“When calories from unhealthy food are three times cheaper than healthy alternatives, it makes sense that people will prioritise being full rather than being healthy, but this only stores up problems for the future.
He added: “Diet-related ill health is costing the NHS billions every year, but more importantly, it is limiting the life chances of people on low incomes. We hope that the Fruit & Veg on Prescription Project will make a healthy diet easier to access for people who are struggling.”
If the pilot is successful it could be introduced across the UK with enough funding, the charity said.
As food poverty continues to impact communities across the UK, can it be said that class still influences the food we eat? Find out more in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode: