Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Grantee Name

New York City Health + Hospitals

Funding Area

Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Publication Date

May 2024

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

December 2021–December 2023

The Food Is Medicine (FIM) movement recognizes that nutrition and health are directly linked.

FIM programs are typically targeted to people with chronic illnesses or risk factors, often using a food prescription written by a health care provider or plan. FIM usually consists of prepared meals or food/produce boxes that are medically tailored to an individual patient. These programs can improve health outcomes, reduce food insecurity, and decrease long-term health care costs.  

In 2021, NYHealth awarded NYC Health + Hospitals a grant to pilot Food for Health, a home-delivered fruit and vegetable prescription program for low-income families with young children who were overweight or obese. The pilot aimed to increase produce access and consumption among children and their caregivers; reduce families’ unmet social needs, including food insecurity; and improve child health.  

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Developed processes and materials—including workflows, eligible patient lists, talking points, and fruit and vegetable prescription cards—to minimize the burden of introducing a new program on the care team. 
  • Enrolled 250 families in the Food for Health study. All of the participants were families of color or from historically marginalized communities. The study divided the families into two groups, sharing nutrition education materials with the control group and distributing prescription food boxes to the intervention group. 
  • Delivered weekly customized boxes of locally grown fruits and vegetables to the intervention group (125 families) for six months. 
  • Relieved some financial burden and stress for parents and other caregivers who received the prescription food boxes; many reported that receiving deliveries made them feel less stressed (91.2%) and improved their mental health (89.0%). 

This project resulted in largely positive results. Improved food security and nutrition security (a more nuanced measure of both food access and quality) were measured for families who received the prescription food boxes (the intervention group). During the same period, food and nutrition security decreased for families in the control group.

Data from the study also suggest that prescription food boxes may help to reduce body mass index (BMI) for children who are overweight or obese. For the subset of children for whom BMI data were available, children in families receiving the food prescription boxes had greater improvements in BMI percentile compared with children who did not receive the boxes (-3.74 vs. -0.37). Any subsequent pilots should collect and monitor BMI for a larger number of children over a longer period.

The impact on produce consumption is less clear. Children and caregivers in both study groups had no significant change in fruit and vegetable consumption when measured by a validated instrument for dietary intake. However, caregivers who received the prescription food boxes reported that their children ate, enjoyed, and tried more fruits and vegetables compared with children in the control group. One caregiver stated, “When [my son sees] the brown box that comes, it’s like, it’s a gift. [He’s] so excited to open it and just to see what we have.” At a six-month follow-up appointment, caregivers who received the prescription food boxes reported that their child enjoyed eating both fruits and vegetables. In contrast, caregivers from the control group reported a decrease in their child enjoying both fruits and vegetables.

This project has implications for caregivers as well. Caregivers said that receiving the fruit and vegetable boxes saved them time and made it easier for them to purchase additional food (96%) and other necessities (94%). One caregiver stated, “Getting [prescription food boxes] helped us…we could save money for other things, rent, or whatever the kids needed.”

Health + Hospitals is seeking funds to support future iterations of Food for Health. New York’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, which prioritizes nonmedical interventions like food for young children, may provide an opportunity.  

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: New York City committed $46,500 through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to support the program.