Financial Incentives Spur Low-income Families to Buy and Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

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A new article from Abt Associates explains how a price incentive can encourage low-income families to buy and eat more fruits and vegetables.

Will a 30 percent discount encourage low-income families to buy and eat more fruits and vegetables? A new article from Abt Associates published in the latest online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows it will.

Abt researchers Lauren Olsho, Jacob Klerman and Susan Bartlett, along with co-author Parke Wilde of Tufts University, describe their findings in “Financial incentives increase fruit and vegetable intake among SNAP participants: a randomized controlled trial of the USDA Healthy Incentives Pilot.”

Researchers have long argued that price is a barrier to fruit and vegetable intake.

“The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) was the largest and most rigorous test of the impact of reducing the price barrier,” said lead author Lauren Olsho, Ph.D.

Over 14 months, the team assessed a financial incentive offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Hampden County, Mass. SNAP is the nation’s largest source of nutrition assistance for vulnerable children and families. Through a randomized controlled trial, considered to be the gold standard in scientific research, SNAP participants in 7,500 households could buy fruits and vegetables at participating retailers and receive a 30 percent rebate via their SNAP electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card. Participants could choose their fruits and vegetables, whether canned, fresh, frozen or dried, and could also choose to purchase them at any participating retailer, from a local corner store to a farmers’ market to a large grocery chain.

Among the study’s key findings are:

  • The incentive significantly increased fruit and vegetable intake among SNAP participants by a quarter cup per day (about half a serving);
  • The incentive closed about 20 percent of the gap in recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake;
  • The incentive was associated with a decrease in consumption of refined grains; and
  • The incentive improved participants’ overall dietary quality.

“When it comes to nutrition, small changes really do matter, especially for vulnerable populations,” said Olsho. “A half a serving might not sound like much, but every day these incremental changes add up, and you see a greater impact on health.”

The study confirmed that when given a financial incentive, and the liberty to choose where and how to spend their benefits, low-income Americans will buy and eat fruits and vegetables.

The HIP study was authorized by Congress through the 2008 Farm Bill and Abt led the work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

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About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.

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Amy Dunaway
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