Wednesday, 24 July 2013

30% price incentive has positive impact on fruit and vegetable intake for SNAP participants

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service today released the Interim Report from the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP), a major study of price incentives for fruit and vegetable intake for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants.

This study may help to inform the national discussion about the economic environment and its influence on food choices.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today said, "The results of the Healthy Incentives Pilot demonstrate the clear impact that promoting nutritious food choices can have on improving the healthfulness of SNAP purchases."

Here is the punchline:
Our interim results indicate that HIP participants (adults aged 16 and older) consumed one-fifth of a cup-equivalent more fruits and vegetables per day than did non-participants (ES.1). This represents a difference of 25 percent in consumption over control group members. Approximately 60 percent of the observed difference was due to a difference in consumption of vegetables and 40 percent due to a difference in consumption of fruit.

These impact estimates are statistically significant, and they are big in percentage terms, but the baseline intake for the control group is quite low, so the impact seems fairly small in terms of cup-equivalents.  There is evidence that some retailers and participants in the pilot were still in the process of learning how the incentive worked.

The pilot was implemented in Hampden County, MA.  The study used a random assignment research design.  The Interim Report is based on a pre-implementation survey and an early post-implementation survey.  A Final Report in several months will use an additional later second post-implementation survey.

The authors of the Interim Report are Susan Bartlett, Jacob Klerman, Parke Wilde, Lauren Olsho, Michelle Blocklin, Christopher Logan, and Ayesha Enver.  As one of the co-authors, I worked on this study as part of a team led by Abt Associates, with funding from USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.  I will be presenting some results from this report on August 5 in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA).  For me, personally, the project is the most terrifically ambitious research effort to which I have ever contributed.

This pilot initiative is related to other efforts to enhance incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables, in farmers' markets and other outlets.  Some municipalities, including Boston, have Bounty Bucks programs, and Wholesome Wave has a series of related efforts.  One cool thing about the HIP study is that it worked through the SNAP participants' Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in all sorts of participating retailers.

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