Sunday, September 5, 2010


The prescription system universally accepted as a way of regulating sale of some drugs and avoiding their abuse has served mankind well though in some countries the enforcement lacks teeth. Antibiotics which form the front line of defense against communicable diseases and others caused by pathogens are loosing their power because of the resistance developed by indiscriminate use though newer and more powerful versions are continuously being developed by the pharmaceutical industry from time to time. The recent reported rBGH misuse in India for boosting vegetable production and extensive application by the meat and dairy industries in some western countries are examples of such abuse. The faith and hope that take people to doctors and specialists are based on the presumption that latter know what is good for the patients. The prescription system therefore must be viewed with sanctity as it strengthens the mutual relationship between physicians and their innocent patients. Now comes the news that the prescription route is being tried for a non-medical purpose for achieving the almost impossible task of persuading youngsters to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat "prescription produce" from local farmers' markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families. Now they will give coupons amounting to $1 a day for each member of a patient's family to promote healthy meals. "A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more," said Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, one of the program sites. "The goal is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day." The effort may also help farmers' markets compete with fast-food restaurants selling dollar value meals. Farmers' markets do more than $1 billion in annual sales in the United States, according to the Agriculture Department. Massachusetts was one of the first states to promote these markets as hubs of preventive health. In the 1980s, for example, the state began issuing coupons for farmers' markets to low-income women who were pregnant orbreast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment. Thirty-six states now have such farmers' market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children".

Whether such a practice is compatible with the Hippocrates oath taken by the doctors in serving humanity through medicine may be debatable as fruits and vegetables cannot be viewed medicines but if the ancient saying that "food is thy medicine" is taken literally doctors are justified in prescribing these new "medicines" as they can reverse the symptoms of over weight which is increasingly being considered as a "disease". This is indeed a novel experiment and results are worth watching. A larger question that may defy an easy answer is what happens to youngsters from rich families who have the necessary resources to buy these protective foods, still binge on calorie rich foods with sickening regularity. It is doubtful if these youngsters would listen to their family doctors whom they might be visiting only during the time of sickness. Probably the only alternative could be using another equally important social institution viz the school where eating fruits and vegetables may be made compulsory during a specific time of each day under the supervision of the teachers. Instead of dumping thousands of crores of rupees on midday school program with doubtful end results, a part of the funding can be diverted to a "protective food" program to be made compulsory to all students.


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