Using Monetary Incentives to Improve the Diet of Low-Income Families

veggiesMinority and economically disadvantaged families tend to consume diets low in fruits and vegetables, partially due to poor access to healthy food and their inability to pay for it. Over dependence on fast foods and high fat diets contributes to major health problems among many Black and other minority families.

A new study led by researchers at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, finds that vouchers good for fruit and vegetables at farmers’ markets in urban areas can significantly improve the diets of low-income minority families.

In an experiment 281 low-income women were given vouchers that, when used to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, increased the value of federal food assistance programs. In short, if they bought healthy foods, the women would get more “bang for the buck” in their grocery budget. The results showed that about half the women who completed the 12-to-16-week study reported a significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.

Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of food studies at New York University and the lead author of the study, stated that “in terms of healthy food options, farmers’ market incentives may be able to bring a low-income person onto the same playing field as those with greater means. Even though not all participants increased their consumption of produce, our study suggests that nutrition incentives are a promising option that can help economically disadvantaged families eat healthier diets.”

The authors stated that additional research is needed to understand why produce consumption did not increase among nearly half of the participants, despite their increased purchasing power.

The article, “Enhancing Food Security of Low-Income Consumers: An Investigation of Financial Incentives for Use at Farmers’ Markets,” was published on the website of the journal Food Policy. It may be accessed here.

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