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Can medical center-based farmers markets improve community health?

Having farmers markets on medical center campuses could prove useful in boosting wellness in surrounding communities, according to researchers with the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine.

In a case study (subscription required) published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers describe the process of creating a seasonal market at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The market, as described in a university release:

... is held once a week and aims for at least 80 percent organic items for sale, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, baked goods, coffee and specialty items such as spices, honey, sauces, flowers and prepared foods. Community wellness programming through medical professional-led activities that promote public health education is a major strategic focus that differentiates [this farmers market] from other markets. Three rent-free booths are reserved each week for community health outreach.

The researchers outline the goals of the market - one of which is to increase community access to healthy locally grown foods - and explain how such markets can help promote healthful lifestyle changes:

For example, medical center markets can enable nursing and medical students and residents to develop their health screening and program management skills, researchers and graduate students interested in evaluating market-based initiatives, and volunteer staff committed to improving community health. In addition, market vendors can contribute to this sustainability through health-related programming such as healthy food demonstrations, distributing healthy recipes and participating in federal nutrition supplementation programs...

More than 100 of the 7,175 known farmers markets in the United States are located on medical campuses, and these researchers call for more analysis on how such markets are impacting public health.

Previously: Should the lack of access to good food be blamed for America’s poor eating habits?, When it comes to nutritional value, debating “organic” vs. “conventionally grown” may be beyond the point, Living near fast food restaurants influences California teens’ eating habits, CDC calls for improving kids’ access to healthy food and Mapping out our country’s “food deserts”
Photo by Corey Templeton

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