Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

'Everyone deserves healthy eating'

Nearly one million in grant funding allows Prescription for a Healthy Oakland to provide healthy food to at-risk and low-income Oakland County residents

The produce section in a grocery store

Photo credit: John McTaggart


icon of a calendarNovember 14, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Jillian Wolf

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Six years ago, Drs. Jennifer Lucarelli and Laurel Stevenson, associate professors of interdisciplinary health sciences, took the lead on developing and launching a pilot prescription for health program. The collaborative effort between the Healthy Pontiac, We Can! Coalition, the Oakland County Health Division, Honor Community Health, Centro Multicultural La Familia and Oakland University resulted in Prescription for a Healthy Oakland. This program, originally launched in 2018, has served several hundreds of individuals in Oakland County and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in produce-prescription vouchers.

Prescription for a Healthy Oakland provides individuals who meet certain health and income requirements access to produce prescription vouchers that can be used at different supermarkets and farmers markets in the county. “Everyone deserves healthy eating,” Dr. Stevenson passionately says. “We’ve established this whole network of people, referral clinics and markets where everybody knows what the vouchers are and how to use them.” The program also provides fully online health education and referrals to supportive services, such as housing and transportation assistance. 

Having previously been funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Prescription for a Healthy Oakland was recently awarded $453,000 from the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, or GusNIP. As the first and only prescription produce prescription program in Michigan to be awarded this grant, the funding will enable enrollment of more participants and expansion to additional farmers markets and grocery stores, ultimately allowing the team to reach more people across Oakland County. 

While the program is certainly having an impact, it is limited by the fact that everything is currently completely done by hand - from physically stamping and delivering vouchers, to manually entering information at markets. Drs. Lucarelli and Stevenson decided to take matters into their own hands and apply for an additional grant enabling them to improve efficiency by integrating technology into the program. In 2022, they were awarded half a million dollars from the Michigan Health and Endowment Fund to do just that, and the TechRX initiative was born. Working with local tech startup Reciprocity, which was recently launched by several OU alumni, the program management technology will be created in collaboration with local programs. In partnership with the Michigan Farmers Market Association, who convene a Statewide Learning Network for produce prescription programs, this grant has added a Steering Committee composed of key leaders across interdisciplinary sectors, as well as a Participant Advisory Council to ensure the voices of those being served by these programs are elevated. All of these individuals and organizations are working together to determine the best ways to advance and automate produce prescription programming at not only the state but also the national level.   

From these efforts, Michigan is now a leader in produce-prescription programs, and advocates are working towards having these types of programs medically-funded through Medicare and Medicaid. “If we take people that are at risk for significant chronic disease and try to reduce their chance of developing the disease in the first place, it can be very cost-effective,” Dr. Lucarelli explains. “By institutionalizing the technology at the state or federal level, these programs can start reaching more populations and become a standard offering.” 

Visit the Prescription for a Healthy Oakland website to learn more about the program and its impact.

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