SAN DIEGO, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Giving low-income adults incentives to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmers markets may help reduce obesity and disease, U.S. researchers say.
Suzanne Lindsay, executive director of the Institute for Public Health San Diego State University, and colleagues examined outcomes of the Fresh Fund farmers market program serving low-income neighborhoods in San Diego.
Through its Farmers Market Fresh Fund Incentive Program, the county of San Diego offered monetary incentives to government nutrition assistance recipients to purchase fresh produce at five local farmers markets.
Participants enrolled from June 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011. They completed baseline and follow-up surveys of daily consumption and weekly spending on fruits and vegetables.
During the study period, 7,298 eligible participants enrolled in Fresh Fund exceeding the program goal of 3,000 by 143 percent. Eighty-two percent of the participants had previously never been to a farmers market. Enrollment increased substantially during summer 2011, and the largest enrollment was in August 2011 with 1,089 participants. The study participants averaged 2.8 visits, markets averaged 72 Fresh Fund participants per day, and 21,025 monetary exchanges took place during the study period.
Almost half -- 46 percent -- of participants returned to the market more than once; 17 percent visited five or more times. The two markets operating during the entire study period had a 95 percent increase in enrollment and a 139 percent increase in visits in August 2011 compared with August 2010.
More than one-third of monetary exchanges were cash exchanges, a third were Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program exchanges and 26 percent were Women, Infants and Children voucher exchanges.
Eligible participants enrolled in the program at a Fresh Fund booth at the market where they were able to use cash or their benefit cards to buy Fresh Fund tokens. They were also given "incentive" tokens up to $20 per month to match the amount of their purchased tokens.
The eligible government nutrition assistance participants spent an average of $34 per participant per visit at the five markets and an average of $93 per participant throughout the study.
Participants in the Fresh Fund program self-reported increases in daily consumption and weekly spending on fruits and vegetables, and vendors at participating farmers markets also increased their revenue.
The findings were published in Preventing Chronic Disease.