A quick chat with low-income families about financial incentives to eat more fruits and vegetables increased consumption of these items, U.S. researchers say.
“Diet-related disease is disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities where fruit and vegetable consumption is far below [federal] guidelines. Unfortunately, healthy food is often more expensive than calorie-rich, nutrient-poor junk food,” explained study author Dr. Alicia Cohen. She is a clinical lecturer at University of Michigan’s department of family medicine.
For the study, researchers talked to almost 200 participants enrolled in a federal nutrition assistance program while they were in the waiting room of a health clinic. The study authors spent 5 minutes explaining a program called Double Up Food Bucks, that doubles the value of food stamps when spent on fruits and vegetables.
That short interaction led to a nearly fourfold increase in program use, the study found. It also increased fruit and vegetable consumption by almost two-thirds of a serving per day, according to the report.
“Dozens of states now have incentives to encourage healthy eating, but many eligible families do not take advantage of these programs,” Cohen noted in a university news release.
“We found that lack of awareness was a major reason for underuse. We heard over and over again, ‘If I had known about this program before, I would have used it a long time ago,'” Cohen said.
Double Up is run by the national nonprofit Fair Food Network.
“Patients are often pressed to make difficult financial decisions, and fruits and vegetables aren’t always easy to afford. Clinicians can be reluctant to screen for social issues they feel unable to address,” Cohen said.
“Our work suggests providing information about healthy food incentives at the doctor’s office is a low-cost, easily implemented intervention that may lead to healthier diets among communities at the highest risk of diet-related disease,” she added.
The study was published Jan. 18 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers smart shopping tips for fruits and vegetables.