Nutrition-boosting scheme targets those cutting back on healthy foods at risk of illness.
Fruit and vegetables are being prescribed to low-income families in a pilot scheme targeting health inequalities and poverty-related hunger for those hit hardest by the cost of living crisis.
Vouchers for fresh produce are being distributed to around 120 people in some of London's most deprived areas, on assessment of the risk to their health from being forced to cut back on spending at the green grocer’s.
Recipients will be given a weekly sum of up to £8 with an additional £2 per family member over 12 months as part of an initiative by local charities and NHS providers in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Lambeth.
The Alexandra Rose Charity, which strives to improve access to healthy food across Britain, is running the £250,000 scheme in tandem with the Bromley by Bow Centre in Tower Hamlets, one of the earliest pioneers of social prescribing, and by The Beacon Project in Lambeth.
The devastating impact of rising households bills and food prices have pushed charities and the health service to devise ways to protect the most vulnerable from the adverse affects of shrinking budgets.
“Fruit and veg on prescription is an idea [for which the] time has come,” 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.
“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 and veg on prescription project will make a healthy diet easier to access for people who are struggling.”
The NHS has also started “prescribing warmth” by paying the winter heating bills of low-income patients with cold-sensitive health conditions. The Gloucestershire scheme, details of which were revealed by The Independent, will also be trialled in the Tees Valley and Aberdeenshire.
Produce prescriptions began last month amid soaring food costs that have led millions to skip meals in recent months.
The Food Foundation charity, which tracks food insecurity across Britain, found many families were not only buying less food but cutting out healthier produce as they found it too expensive.
More than half of people struggling to afford to eat said they had bought less fruit, while just under had cut down on vegetables, risking nutritional deficiency and conditions including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Professor Sir Sam Everington, a GP in Bromley by Bow and vice president of the British Medical Association, said the prescription of fruit and veg can cut this risk dramatically.
He said: “So many long and short-term illnesses deteriorate significantly with a poor diet. A healthy diet can often achieve far more than any medicines I can prescribe as a GP.
“Therefore, fruit and veg prescriptions are essential in reversing and preventing many illnesses. When I trained over 40 years ago, Type 2 Diabetes was a disease of the elderly. We are now seeing it in teenagers.
“Much of it is preventable with a healthy diet and good regular exercise. Fruit and veg should be part of every prescription.”