CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Financial incentives for purchasing fruit and vegetables offered to households that participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, encouraged a greater increase in healthy foods being bought and consumed than other similar efforts, a new study found.
The study was based on the Health Incentives Pilot, or HIP, an experimental initiative that offers a 30-cent rebate for every dollar spent by people utilizing SNAP. HIP was launched on a limited basis after a mandate from Congress.
Assistance from SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, goes to 46 million people in the United States.
"There is evidence that a nationwide expansion of HIP is likely to nudge SNAP households to eat more fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Ruopeng An, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, in a press release. "Even a large incentive like HIP, which provides a 30 percent rebate, closes only a very small fraction -- less than 18 percent -- of the gap between the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that consumers eat and the targeted amount set by federal officials in the Healthy People 2020 campaign."
An analyzed data collected from 2011 to 2012 in one Massachusetts county where the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which implements SNAP, ran HIP in response to a Congressional requirement included with the 2008 Farm Bill.
The 7,500 households in Hampden County received 30 cents back for every dollar they spent on targeted foods, which included fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits and vegetables without added sugars, fats, oils or salt. During the year, families eligible for the rebate increased their fruit and vegetable intake by 0.48 servings per person per day.
An said the average household participating in the trial received about $3.65 per month in rebates, which he said would translate to about $44 per year to each SNAP household -- including the $5 fee implementation cost.
The Healthy People 2020 program has set a goal of increasing American's intake of fruit and vegetables to 5 to 7 servings per day, which An said HIP did not accomplish. He said, however, the trial program should be expanded nationwide because it performed better than other programs such as the federal nutritional labeling program.
While rebates at grocery stores for buying healthy foods may help increase their consumption if implemented nationally, SNAP participants already can buy healthier food at more than 5,000 farmer's markets in all 50 states, according to the USDA.
The study is published in Social Science and Medicine.