Incentives work to encourage healthier SNAP eating

Published on: Jul 24, 2013

With growing concerns over obesity as well as the increased number of people receiving governmental nutrition assistance, new findings from a pilot project show that incentives might work to encourage more fruits and vegetable consumption, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack released the results of USDA's Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) which evaluated 4,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – commonly known as food stamps – households. Under HIP, SNAP participants received an incentive of 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables credited back to their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. The incentive could then be spent on any SNAP-eligible foods and beverages.

The two-year study found that an ongoing investment of less than 15 cents per person per day may result in a 25% increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults. Adults receiving the HIP incentive consumed, on average, an ounce more fruits and vegetables per day than non-participants.

Approximately 60% of the observed difference was due to a difference in consumption of vegetables and 40% due to a difference in consumption of fruit. On average, during March to July 2012, HIP households spent $12.13 on targeted fruits and vegetables in participating stores and earned an average incentive of $3.64 each month. Excluding those households that did not earn any incentive during the month, HIP households made $18.50 in targeted fruit and vegetable purchases and earned $5.55 in incentives.

Vilsack explained partnerships with non-profit entities can be vitally important in helping expand pilot opportunities in other states. And in tight budgetary times, this action doesn't need Congressional authority to do so.

For instance in Minnesota, a public-private partnership has offered $5 coupons to SNAP households for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables. In Detroit, Mich., the Fair Food Network's double up food bucks has doubled the spending power for SNAP shoppers at local farmers markets while also supporting local farmer markets.

Oran Hesterman, president and chief executive officer of Fair Food Network, said that over the last four years the incentives has helped increase new shoppers to farmers markets whether 80% of the SNAP customers using the program are now buying and eating more fruits and vegetables. But it is also what he coined a "win-win-win" because it's been found to bring $3 million more into the pockets of local farmers, who also cited that 75% of these farmers selling at the farmers markets say they are making more money because of the SNAP program.

At the farmer markets participants can swipe their EBT SNAP card for $20 in expenditures and receive an additional $20 in tokens to be spent on any Michigan grown product. Fair Food Network is also expanding the program to three grocery stores in the Detroit area providing a $10 reward card when at least $10 is spent on local, fresh fruits and vegetables.