Maggie Grabow

DFMCH complementary and integrative health research Maggie Grabow, PhD, MPH, is investigating whether “social prescriptions” for healthy eating and increased exercise can help improve the health of overweight and obese college students.

Despite mounting evidence on the beneficial health effects of fruit and vegetable consumption and regular exercise, changing people’s behavior to incorporate these activities on a daily basis is challenging.

That’s why Maggie Grabow, PhD, MPH, a UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) complementary and integrative health research (CIHR) fellow working with mentor Bruce Barrett MD, PhD, is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether a “social prescription” for healthy eating and increased exercise can help improve the health of overweight and obese college students.

Prescribing CSAs and Bikeshares

Through her randomized controlled trial, Fruit And Vegetable Or Recreation Prescriptions (FAVORx), she recruited 25 UW-Madison undergraduate students who have a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 and who receive health care at University Health Services (UHS). Participating students must also live outside of the dorms, not bike regularly or belong to a fruit and vegetable community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Participants were randomized into three groups:

  1. A CSA group, which received a 10-week fruit and vegetable CSA share with education and cooking support from UW Slow Food;
  2. A bikeshare group, which received a 10-week membership to Madison BCycle, plus exercise support from the UHS wellness program; and
  3. A “usual care” control group.

Dr. Grabow collected baseline health measures, including BMI, blood glucose levels, lipids, physical activity and perceived stress, at the beginning of the study and after the 10-week intervention. Participants also completed a 24-hour food diary at the beginning of the study and after the intervention.

Preliminary Findings are Encouraging

Dr. Grabow is currently analyzing study data to identify specific outcomes of the interventions, which she’ll submit for future publication.

At the DFMCH’s biannual Fellowship Symposium in December 2016, she presented preliminary findings that may help inform the feasibility of social prescription programs like FAVORx. For example, she found that although some participants in the CSA intervention group noted that they ate healthier overall, only six of the 10 people in that group attended the cooking class.

“It [the CSA prescription] made me eat healthier, walk more; I did yoga more consistently than I did in the past,” noted one participant.

Similarly, three participants in the bikeshare group used the service cycle extensively, but lack of proximity to the BCycle station meant that four participants didn’t use it at all.

“I felt healthier definitely, and happier that I was doing something,” noted another participant. “Plus I didn’t have to allot a certain time for exercise, it was just a part of my day, and that just made it so much better.”

Dr. Grabow says the preliminary results are encouraging and appear to be promising. If their team can demonstrate feasibility, their long-term goal is to offer social prescriptions to marginalized populations in Madison and beyond.

To learn more about the FAVORx study, contact Dr. Grabow at

Published: March 2017