New Studies Unveil Ways to Reduce Hunger in U.S.

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Recent Articles from Abt Associates Offer Rigorous Evidence on Ways Policies Can Improve Nutrition for Low-Income Americans

Both incentives and restrictions can improve nutrition among low-income Americans, while increasing access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can reduce food insecurity. Findings are presented in three new articles by Abt Associates published in a special issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers examined data from two large random assignment studies, the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) and the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children Demonstration (SEBTC). HIP is the largest random assignment study to incentivize SNAP recipients to buy fruits and vegetables by offering a rebate. In addition, SEBTC is the largest random assignment study of SNAP nutrition and food security. During the summers of 2011 through 2013, SEBTC randomly assigned and surveyed approximately 50,000 households. Randomly selected households that were offered the program received $60 or $30 of additional food assistance, per school-aged child, per month, during the summer.

A Carrot Approach Works: The Healthy Incentives Pilot

In “Rebates to Incentivize Healthy Nutrition Choices in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” researchers present HIP findings based on 7,500 SNAP households in Hampden County, Mass., that were randomly assigned to receive a 30 percent rebate when they purchased targeted fruits and vegetables at participating retailers. The rebate incentivized participants to buy more targeted fruits and vegetables and consume almost a quarter-cup more of these healthy items per day. Spending on targeted fruits and vegetables was also higher among households receiving the incentives.

“Small steps matter,” said Dr. Lauren Olsho, Abt principal associate and lead author of the rebate article. “This study shows that eating your vegetables is more likely when there is an incentive. Price incentives are promising strategies to help improve diet quality.”

Increasing Assistance Reduces Food Insecurity

In “Improving Nutrition by Increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits,” Abt Senior Fellow Jacob A. Klerman and co-author Ann Collins offer evidence from the SEBTC showing that more food assistance leads to a better diet and other positive outcomes. Researchers examined the impact of additional food assistance (an average of about $100 per month) that eligible families received during the summer. The additional benefit improved household food security, increased food expenditures on higher quality foods, and improved several child nutrition outcomes, including fruit, vegetable and dairy intake.

Limiting Choice and Increasing Benefits Work

In “Improving Nutrition by Limiting Choice in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” Klerman and colleagues argue that the SEBTC and HIP studies provide sound evidence that requirements on what to purchase with SNAP funds can and do work.

Under SEBTC, both limited choice and free choice models were tested. Some sites offered the summer benefit using a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)-like model, restricting food items that can be purchased. Other sites offered the benefit using the SNAP model, without substantially restricting food choice.

Compared to SNAP-model households, WIC-model households consumed more fruits and vegetables. These WIC-model households also consumed less sugar and less sugar-sweetened beverages.

Said Klerman, “Collectively, these studies and articles show that policy changes can increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Giving families more food assistance will increase intake of healthy foods. But if you give families more food assistance and require them to spend it on fruits and vegetables, they’ll eat a whole lot of ‘good foods’ and slightly less 'bad foods’.”

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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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