Financial incentives increase fruit and vegetable intake among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants: a randomized controlled trial of the USDA Healthy Incentives Pilot1–3

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Abstract

Background:

US fruit and vegetable (FV) intake remains below recommendations, particularly for low-income populations. Evidence on effectiveness of rebates in addressing this shortfall is limited.

Objective:

This study evaluated the USDA Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP), which offered rebates to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants for purchasing targeted FVs (TFVs).

Design:

As part of a randomized controlled trial in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 7500 randomly selected SNAP households received a 30% rebate on TFVs purchased with SNAP benefits. The remaining 47,595 SNAP households in the county received usual benefits. Adults in 5076 HIP and non-HIP households were randomly sampled for telephone surveys, including 24-h dietary recall interviews. Surveys were conducted at baseline (1–3 mo before implementation) and in 2 follow-up rounds (4–6 mo and 9–11 mo after implementation). 2784 adults (1388 HIP, 1396 non-HIP) completed baseline interviews; data were analyzed for 2009 adults (72%) who also completed ≥1 follow-up interview.

Results:

Regression-adjusted mean TFV intake at follow-up was 0.24 cup-equivalents/d (95% CI: 0.13, 0.34 cup-equivalents/d) higher among HIP participants. Across all fruit and vegetables (AFVs), regression-adjusted mean intake was 0.32 cup-equivalents/d (95% CI: 0.17, 0.48 cup-equivalents/d) higher among HIP participants. The AFV-TFV difference was explained by greater intake of 100% fruit juice (0.10 cup-equivalents/d; 95% CI: 0.02, 0.17 cup-equivalents/d); juice purchases did not earn the HIP rebate. Refined grain intake was 0.43 ounce-equivalents/d lower (95% CI: -0.69, -0.16 ounce-equivalents/d) among HIP participants, possibly indicating substitution effects. Increased AFV intake and decreased refined grain intake contributed to higher Healthy Eating Index-2010 scores among HIP participants (4.7 points; 95% CI: 2.4, 7.1 points).

Conclusions:

The HIP significantly increased FV intake among SNAP participants, closing ˜20% of the gap relative to recommendations and increasing dietary quality. More research on mechanisms of action is warranted. The HIP trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT02651064.

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