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OU Physicians Partners with LocalFarmOK as Part of New “Food as Medicine” Initiative

TULSA — OU Physicians Tulsa is partnering with LocalFarmOK to pilot a new fruit and vegetable home delivery program for patients.  

This new “Food as Medicine” initiative is part of an ongoing research study titled, “The Produce Drop,” being led by OU-Tulsa faculty Marianna Wetherill, PhD, MPH, RDN-AP/LD, and Brent Beasley, M.D. With the help of LocalFarmOK, a random selection of eligible patients is receiving a weekly assortment of fresh, locally-grown produce for nine months at no cost to them. 

The study will evaluate the health benefits and medical cost savings of the intervention compared to a control group. The research is financially supported by the OU College of Medicine Alumni Association, the OU Hudson College of Public Health and OU Physicians Internal Medicine.

“Vegetables and fruits are the foundation for a healthy diet,” explained Wetherill, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma and registered dietitian. “Unfortunately, our research found that less than five percent of Oklahomans with chronic disease are following their physician’s advice to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Cost and lack of transportation are two major reasons contributing to this problem. This new initiative will allow us to evaluate the benefits of giving patients free access to the foods that matter the most for good health.”

“We believe nutrition and health are deeply connected,” LocalFarmOK Owner Ashley Neal said. “We have been wanting to partner with healthcare providers for a long time. It’s a great feeling to know that we are helping to provide a service to patients who need it the most.

“When we saw that patients in other states are receiving fruits and vegetables through a doctor’s prescription, we thought it was important to find a way to do something similar in Oklahoma,” Neal added.

The Produce Drop is one of many “Food as Medicine” initiatives being led by a core group of faculty at OU-Tulsa in partnership with community organizations. In 2018, the OU-TU School of Community Medicine debuted its culinary medicine educational programs for healthcare students and community members. Held at the Tandy Family YMCA, these classes have now reached over 300 community members in the Tulsa area. 

Participants in the Produce Drop study will also be able to attend culinary medicine classes, either as part of their assigned study group, or after the study ends. 

“Participants in our culinary medicine classes learn the basics of healthy cooking and how to incorporate more beans, greens and whole grains into their meals,” explained Lori Whelan, M.D., lead physician and co-founder of the OU Culinary Medicine program. “They also learn from a professional chef how easy it is to make healthy food taste great.” 

Preliminary findings from the Produce Drop Study and an overview of the OU Culinary Medicine program were to be presented at the inaugural Food as Medicine Conference, scheduled in April. The conference was planned by Whelan, Beasley and Wetherill, and OU-Tulsa President John Schumann, M.D.  

“We felt the timing for a “Food as Medicine” conference was right and made the decision to coordinate the event with VegFest to help raise awareness in Oklahoma about the many benefits of plant-based diets,” Beasley said.  

More information about the conference is available at: [link.ou.edu/culinarymedicine]link.ou.edu/culinarymedicine          

A collection of “Food as Medicine” Oklahoma-based research written by OU faculty, alumni and students was in two recent issues of the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association -- https://www.okmed.org/WEB/Online/Publications/Past_Issues.aspx

“We are excited to see our Food as Medicine initiatives grow at the OU-Tulsa campus,” Wetherill said. “Physicians, patients and healthcare students have been incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities to study and respond to our community’s health needs through interventions that bring us all together through nutritious food.”