Will a 30-Percent Incentive on Fruits and Vegetables Lead to Healthier Eating?

August 20, 2010

Source: Abt Associates

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service has selected Abt Associates to lead a team evaluating a ground-breaking pilot program aimed at encouraging healthier eating among lower-income Americans. The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) will enroll households in Hampden County, Massachusetts that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

As a complement to the Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity led by the First Lady, the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) aims to improve the diets of participants in SNAP. The evaluation will measure the impact of the incentive on consumption of fruits and vegetables and on diet quality, more generally. Researchers will also measure impacts on food retailers and other SNAP stakeholders as well as assess the feasibility of HIP, the lessons learned, and the potential for implementing HIP nationwide.

As reported by the White House's Office of the First Lady, "One third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. A recent study put the health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year. This epidemic also impacts the nation's security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service."

While most Americans fall below the Dietary Guidelines for recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, low-income people, including SNAP participants, are less likely to consume sufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables. The HIP is a creative response to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which called for a demonstration program to test ways to increase SNAP participants' consumption of fruits and vegetables, including use of financial incentives at the point-of-sale. It will enroll households that participate in SNAP and for every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP benefits cards 30 cents will be added to the balance on their cards -- thus cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one third.

Abt Associates is leading a team that includes Westat; the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley; and Imadgen, LLC. Collectively, this team has decades of experience executing nutrition program studies, implementing and analyzing experimental evaluations, conducting state-of-the-art nutrient data collection, and working with SNAP systems that manage administrative data and electronic benefits transfer.

About Abt Associates

Abt Associates applies research, program implementation and technical assistance, and policy expertise to a wide range of social, economic and health policy issues; international development; and complex business problems. Founded in 1965, the company provides services to U.S. federal, state and local governments; universities and foundations; media; and major corporations. Its staff of over 1,500 is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Bethesda, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; New York, New York (Abt SRBI); and in Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. For more information, visit www.abtassociates.com