Center for Health Equity


Walmart Foundation Funds Maternal Health “Food Is Medicine” Research within the Center for Health Equity

Published: May 24, 2024

Produce prescription providers and researchers meet with Community Advisory Group members in March 2024
Produce prescription providers and researchers meet with Community Advisory Group members in March 2024

By Wes Gibson

UTHealth Houston School of Public Health Center for Health Equity (CHE) has received funding from the Walmart Foundation through the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity to research and develop a produce prescription program to boost maternal health outcomes. This program aims to improve food and nutrition security and maternal health for Medicaid-eligible women receiving care at Harris Health System.

To support this initiative, the Center for Health Equity is partnering with Harris Health, Brighter Bites, and Planet Harvest LLC to design a human-centered program and implement the impact of the Harris Health Produce Rx program for women with high-risk pregnancies.

The project has four pillars to boost maternal health outcomes through Food is Medicine research: 

  1. A human-centered design incorporating patients’ lived experiences to support women with high-risk pregnancies: The Walmart Foundation grant helped establish a Community Advisory Group (CAG) of mothers who participated in produce prescription programs. CAG members will provide feedback on effective food prescription programs and discuss supports and barriers to eating healthy in the Houston community, including SNAP and WIC participation. This CAG was launched in March 2024 and will meet regularly to inform the initiative.
  2. Launching the Harris Health Produce Rx program, a culturally responsive, patient-centered initiative that will benefit pregnant mothers: This program will improve access to fresh produce and nutrition education across 400 high-risk pregnant mothers receiving care at Harris Health. The produce boxes are built by Planet Harvest and, in partnership with Brighter Bites, delivered to the homes of participating families. Each box contains approximately 20 pounds of 8-10 fresh, seasonal produce varieties. Participants receive tips and tools on preparing the produce and benefit from community health worker engagement and support. FreshFruitsandVeggies.jpg
  3. Building evidence through rigorous evaluation of the Harris Cares Produce Rx program: Using a randomized controlled trial design, the CHE will assess the impact of the produce prescription program on food security, nutrition security, diet quality, and pregnancy and birth outcomes among participating women. The CHE will also assess the budget for future cost-effectiveness analysis. Evaluators will qualitatively and quantitatively analyze the health system, looking at clinic environments, workflows, and the patient and community food environments, including cultural context and dietary habits. This will help improve produce prescription strategies and build the health system’s capacity for screening, sharing data for care coordination, and training staff at participating clinics.
  4. Dissemination and sustainability: The CHE will assess the program’s budget impact, determine cost per patient, and calculate scale-up costs. Based on the data, the CHE will develop a robust implementation toolkit and training materials to sustain and scale the program across Harris Health and diverse health settings. Finally, the CHE will develop a platform to provide ongoing technical assistance to healthcare settings and social service agencies interested in adopting produce prescription strategies.

Funding from the Walmart Foundation will help the CHE build research on the effectiveness of produce prescription programs, ultimately advancing the Center for Health Equity's mission of creating sustainable solutions to promote health across diverse communities.