North Country program aims to make healthy eating a priority

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. (WCAX) Essex County, New York, is looking to make healthy eating a priority through a new program.

Fruits and veggies are essential to everyone's well-being, but keeping them in your life can be hard. "The health benefits go on and on," said Mary White-Ferris with Elizabethtown Community Hospital.

After seeing the diabetes and obesity rates in Essex County were above the state's average and among the top five counties for diabetes alone, the county health department knew they needed to do something.

"We know that healthier options are often times more expensive for people," said the department's Elizabeth Terry. "Well Fed Essex County Collaborative is a 250 thousand dollar grant initiative that we were given through Adirondack Health Institute to increase food access in Essex County."

The grant makes WIC and SNAP benefits more obtainable for community members and puts a spotlight on food-related health. "We kind of took all of the projects and gave them a spin to fit our rural communities," Terry said.

The health department teamed up with the hospital for the Wellness RX Nutrition Program. It's a prescription from your doctors for fruits and veggies. Participants just need to ask their doctor if they are eligible. Medical providers look at health and family history for any diseases -- like diabetes or heart disease -- that an indivudaual may be predispsed to.

The next step visiting with someone like Elizabethtown hospital's Mary White-Ferris. "I'm a foodie and I believe that food is part of our wellness," White-Ferris said.

She looks at a participant's diet and lifestyle and helps them plan a way to get the foods they need. "Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans -- some superfoods that really can lead to better overall health," White-Ferris said.

Particiapnts can get four vouchers towards produce from local farmers markets or the Farmacy program, which brings healthy local food to rural communities.

The program started in March and so far they have 40 people enrolled countywide -- and the folks seem to love it.

"I see great strides being made healthwise, it's very encouraging," White-Ferris said.