“This is a great program to bring to local farmers markets, provided
they are located in areas with many consumers that receive federal
nutrition benefits,” Carolyn Dimitri, who led the study, told
Reuters Health in an email.
Dimitri, a researcher with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies
and Public Health at New York University, added that this is an easy
intervention for markets that are already accepting SNAP (formerly
known as food stamps) or other federal nutrition benefits, and the
payoff is high for the consumers who participate.
About one in four farmers markets currently accept SNAP, she and her
colleagues noted in the journal Food Policy.
“Farmers markets can bring a spark of life into a community,”
Dimitri said. “The vouchers have the potential to increase the
viability of local farmers markets and consequently local
Low-income families tend to consume diets low in fruits and
vegetables due to poor access to healthy food and their inability to
pay for it, say the authors.
Although food assistance programs such as SNAP are helpful, they can
be used to buy any type of food, including items that aren’t
“The concept is appealing – give people more resources, and they
will buy more fruits and vegetables,” Dimitri said.
Dimitri and her colleagues enrolled 281 economically disadvantaged
women who shopped at five farmers markets in New York, San Diego and
Boston. All of the women had children between the ages of two and
The researchers collected demographic information and asked the
participants questions about their food shopping habits and fresh
vegetable consumption. The study lasted from 12 to 16 weeks,
depending on how long the local farmers market season lasted.
Each time the women shopped at the farmers market, they received up
to $10 in vouchers to be used for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
The women matched the amount of the vouchers with their own cash or
federal food benefits.
A total of 138 participants completed the study. Women who were
older, visited food banks and lived in “food deserts” -
neighborhoods with few healthy food sources - were most likely to
drop out of the study.
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Of the women who completed the study, more than half said they ate
vegetables more frequently at the end of the study.
Women with less education and those who consumed little fresh
produce at the beginning of the study were the most likely to
increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets.
“I think this study is exciting because it shows that for those with
very low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, these incentives
seemed very promising,” Darcy Freedman told Reuters Health in a
Freedman is a researcher with the Prevention Research Center for
Healthy Neighborhoods at Case Western Reserve University in
“But I think also given the influx of federal support for nutrition
incentive programs, this study raises important questions about
strategies to make them most effective,” said Freedman, who wasn’t
involved in the new research.
The 2014 Farm Bill includes a new program called the Food Insecurity
Nutrition Incentive Program, which will provide incentives for
people to use SNAP to buy more fruits and vegetables.
Freedman said that we need to get to the point where far more
farmers markets accept these benefits.
“The first step is getting the farmers markets to accept SNAP, the
second step is getting the (Farm Bill) incentive activated and then
I think building on from there,” she said.
The study was funded in part by the nonprofit organization Wholesome
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1krl3bY Food Policy, online July 26, 2014.
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