The SEED’s Fresh Food Prescription (FFRx) program has been running since 2019 and has now wrapped up its second phase! We last wrote about FFRx in this blog post in the spring. Read on for our latest findings and updates!
Why Food Prescriptions?
Food prescription programs are intended to improve participants’ food environments by altering one or more of the dimensions of healthy food access:
- availability- perceived adequacy of supply of healthy foods;
- accessibility- location and ease of access to healthy foods;
- affordability- relative cost of healthy foods;
- acceptability- alignment with preferences, dietary restrictions, and cultural food practices; and
- accommodation- meeting the needs of those accessing food.
What is Fresh Food Rx again?
Fresh Food Rx (FFRx) is a program and series of research studies implemented by The SEED at the Guelph Community Health Centre. Health care providers at the Guelph CHC (such as doctors, social workers, registered dietitians, etc.) prescribe food to community members who are experiencing both a) food insecurity and b) a chronic health condition that could be related to their nutrition.
FFRx Phase 1 started in September 2019 with a successful 12-week pilot, which supported 60 households. We started Phase 2 in the spring of 2021, which supported another 60 households and close to 200 individual people for a full year. This phase has now ended, and we are currently looking at opportunities for Phase 3, with the help of our research partners at the University of Victoria and University of Waterloo.
How does a food prescription work?
For Phase 2, participants received weekly money in the form of vouchers, which were used at Groceries from The SEED to purchase their choice of fruits and vegetables. Groceries were then delivered to them, free of charge.
The SEED team made a huge effort to make this program as accessible as possible by providing solutions that fit people’s individual needs, like weekly reminder phone calls, access to interpretation, different options for ordering, and more!
Everybody was lovely… I was acknowledged…They were very good…I left feeling very good.”FFRx Participant
Phase 2 participants benefitted from:
- access to Groceries from The SEED (discounts on other products in addition to prescribed free fruits and veggies)
- regular check-ins with the FFRx team
- encouragement to see a registered dietitian for added support.
While receiving food access support, community members were asked if they would like to be involved in the research study, which evaluated the prescription’s benefits. We measured impacts on self-reported health, food access, and amount of fruit and vegetable consumption. We also measured biometric impacts like blood pressure, cardio metabolic blood markers, and micronutrient status.
Impact on Food Insecurity
Our Phase 2 findings are in, and they look promising! We saw a 43% reduction in severe food insecurity after 52 weeks in the program. People moved from severely food insecure to moderately food insecure, which explains the increase in that category:
We also saw a large increase in reported weekly fruit and vegetable intake!
It is important to note that these benefits will only continue while FFRx exists. Since Phase 2 has ended, community members are already reporting that it is very difficult to afford enough food to meet their basic needs, let alone the full amount of fruit and vegetables they want.
The deep impact of fresh food prescriptions
One participant said that she was able to save some of her ODSP money that she would normally use for food, and use it to take her teenage son to a trampoline park. She teared up talking to our researchers about how she was able to do something special for her kid that she is never able to do normally.
Another participant explained that she often feels invisible as a person of color, that walking into stores she feels like she is not acknowledged or respected. When she spoke about walking into the SEED warehouse to use her FFRx voucher she said “Everybody was lovely… I was acknowledged…They were very good…I left feeling very good.”
What’s next for FFRx
The SEED Team is committed to continuing Fresh Food Rx. There is a significant need for more comprehensive studies to determine the potential of this model. We want to know more about food prescriptions’ ability to alleviate food insecurity and improve health, while reducing long-term burdens on healthcare systems and reliance on medical interventions.
We have been given more funds from MAZON Canada and The Sprott Foundation, to continue our work with food prescribing. We hope to provide more food prescriptions to those who were involved in Phase 2, starting in the new year. Additionally, Our Food Future has awarded us funding to help us expand the food prescribing model within both Guelph and Wellington County! Guelph and Wellington’s Ontario Health Team network will be instrumental in helping us expand to other health care partners in the area.
We will be using our results from Phase 2, especially qualitative data about how our community members experienced the program, to improve upon our model.
We know that food insecurity is an income-based problem. Our teams at The Guelph CHC and The SEED will continue to advocate for income-based solutions and policy change.