News & Events

New program prescribes better eating options for kids at risk of obesity

August 5, 2011

Backus Hospital continues to work with its community partners to provide solutions to one of the region’s biggest health problems – obesity.

The hospital is collaborating with United Community & Family Services and Generations Family Health Center on a new program, Rx for Health, in which physicians “prescribe” farmers’ markets for children who are obese or at risk to be obese. The hospital is underwriting the cost through donations to its annual fund, which is focusing on obesity.

“Obesity is a major risk factor for other health conditions, and children who are overweight tend to be overweight as adults,” said Ramindra Walia, a pediatrician on the Backus and UCFS medical staffs. “The more we can do to reach children and their families now, and promote healthier lifestyles, the healthier they will be later. This is a very exciting partnership and an opportunity to make a real difference.”

Beginning within the next week, physicians at UCFS and Generations will begin identifying families and prescribing the farmers’ market at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park in Norwich, which is held every Wednesday. They will literally fill out a prescription and hand out vouchers adding up to be used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.

The vouchers include check boxes for fresh fruits and vegetables, which vendors at the market will check off to ensure the vouchers are used for healthy choices. The vouchers will then be turned in to dietitians and nurses stationed on the Backus Mobile Health Resource Center. The dietitians will also offer nutritional education and even healthy recipes, the farmer’s markets, which are being held each Wednesday Aug. 10 through Oct. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The target population is children and teens ages 2-18 who are covered by HUSKY who would benefit from increased access to healthy foods.

Backus Manager of Community Benefits Janette Polaski said if the pilot program is successful, it will continue next summer and fall, and could be expanded to include grocery stores.

“We know that fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive, and in today’s economy could be a major roadblock for families,” Ms. Polaski said. “Sometimes it’s much easier – and cheaper – to quickly grab foods that are high in fat and sodium rather than healthier options. We hope this program helps balance the scales, so to speak, and improves the chances that families will make healthy choices.”

A Backus Community Health Needs Assessment has identified obesity as one of the major health issues in eastern Connecticut.

Since the study was completed last year, Backus has initiated a number of programs and partnerships, including one with the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut establishing a Food Policy Council, which seeks to enact policy changes that will have long lasting impacts on obesity.

Backus also collaborated with the Plainfield Recreation Department on Enjoy LIFE (Lifelong Investment in Fitness and Exercise), which targeted southern Windham County and northern New London County for education on improving nutrition and exercise.

The hospital also established the Backus Weight Loss Center, which among other things offers weight loss surgery, counseling, support groups and a medical weight loss program.