What they do: The Brighter Bites and UT (University of Texas) Physicians produce prescription program is a pilot study of 150 families with Medicaid-eligible children ages 5-12 in the Houston, Texas, area. Children in the study must be at risk for obesity and receiving care at a UT Physicians clinic. The goal of the 32-week study is to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of two different produce prescription delivery methods – a bi-weekly produce box delivery or a fresh produce grocery voucher that is loaded every two weeks – to determine which method is best for improving dietary behaviors in children. Outcomes measured include weight status, lipids, glucose control, a liver panel, household food and nutrition security, the child’s diet quality, and the home nutrition environment before and after participation in the program.
Participants in both groups also receive access to nutrition education through cooking videos and the Brighter Bites mobile app, which includes recipes, produce preparation tips, and a variety of healthy tips ranging from food storage to gardening to packing a healthy lunchbox.
How they do it: The study is housed in the Population Health Initiative at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. Physicians at participating clinics of UT Physicians, the medical practice of UTHealth Houston, refer eligible pediatric patients and their families to the program on a rolling basis until the study reaches the maximum participation of 150 children and their families. After they receive a referral, families are randomized into one of three study groups (produce delivery, grocery store vouchers, or control group).
Families in the produce box cohort receive a delivery of 8 to 12 different colorful fruits and vegetables at their homes every two weeks for 32 weeks. All families receive the same amount and variety of produce. Brighter Bites procures the produce via donations from the Houston Food Bank and packages it at school sites and has partnered with DoorDash to make the home deliveries.
Families in the voucher cohort receive a grocery card that is automatically loaded with $25 every two weeks for 32 weeks. It can be used at participating stores – Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, Randall’s, CVS, and Dollar General – for any fresh produce, including bagged or pre-packaged fresh fruits and vegetables. Any unused money from the previous two weeks will roll over to be used in the future. A health-focused financial technology company, Speak, provides technological services for the cards.
Mission: To improve dietary behaviors in children in order to reduce the risk of diet-related diseases later in life.
Major Funding: Brighter Bites has provided the majority of funding for the pilot program, with additional support from UT Physicians and UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. Additional funding will be sought to continue the program in the future.
Annual Budget: Approximately $200,000
Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect health: This study is unique in that it is employing and comparing two different produce prescription delivery methods. Results may be beneficial for others implementing similar programs across the country. Overall, participants have shown excitement about the program, and it has encouraged children and families to try new produce.
UT Physicians Pediatric Primary Care Clinic – Texas Medical Center
6410 Fannin Street, Suite 500
Houston, Texas 77030
UT Physicians Multispecialty – Greens
550 Greens Parkway, Suite 150
Houston, Texas 77067
Core Programs: Produce Prescription Program
Number of staff: 8
Number of volunteers: 11 (all students)
Areas served: Houston, TX
Year Started: 2022
Study Co-Investigators: Shreela Sharma, PhD, RD, LD; Christine Markham, PhD; Allison Marshall, PhD; Ru-Jye Chang, PhD; Vinay Prabhu, MD; Prajakta Yeragi, MD; Sandra McKay, MD
Study Coordinator: Mallika Mathur, MPH
Dr. Shreela Sharma, Co-Investigator
Phone: (713) 500‑9344
- Brighter Bites & UT Physicians Produce Rx Program (ClinicalTrials.gov)
- New Clinic Program Adds Colorful Bites for Brighter Futures (UTHealth Houston School of Public Health)