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Top health official hopes to take local 'food for medicine' program nationwide

PIX Now -- Friday afternoon headlines from the KPIX newsroom
PIX Now -- Friday afternoon headlines from the KPIX newsroom 08:55

OAKLAND - U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra was at Wilma Chan Highland Hospital in Oakland on Friday morning to hear how Alameda County has been at treating, preventing and reversing disease by prescribing more vegetables, altering patients behavior and training providers. 

Federal officials now want to take the program nationwide. 

Research has shown that Alameda County's program Recipe4Health has been helping residents be healthier.

The program rests on prescriptions for healthy food, behavioral changes such as more exercise and training for doctors and staff to use food rather than drugs for treating, preventing and reversing certain chronic diseases.

Now with the help of $2 million secured by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, federal officials can start scaling it up.
"We're all in on this food as medicine," Becerra said at a news conference at the hospital.

He said, "Today, we're challenging states" to "join us in treating food as medicine. And help us prove that by getting folks on good food, prescribing good food as medicine, that we're going to make people healthier."
Roque Centeno, a patient in the Recipe4Health program, didn't think it was for him at first.

"I learned to eat better," Centeno said. 

Now he eats vegetables at almost every meal, he said. He doesn't eat sugar. He doesn't even put sugar in his coffee.
Now he is no longer pre-diabetic or anxious.

"Thank you for the program," Centeno said. 

Thirty-two percent of patients in the program saw an improvement in their indicators of diabetes and prediabetes and 67 percent an improvement in their cholesterol, an indicator of cardiovascular care.

"These are the kinds of the results that we want to see going forward and to see as part of our federal program," Alameda County Supervisor Lena Tam said.

Food as medicine was an initiative championed by the late Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan. Becerra said the last time he was officially in Oakland he was with Chan.

"We talked about this with her," Becerra said. "This was one of Wilma's major projects. I know she's looking down and saying, 'I knew Oakland would deliver.'" 

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