Farmers market vouchers may boost produce consumption in low-income families

July 24, 2014

Vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets increase the amount of produce in the diets of some families on food assistance, according to research led by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The study, which appears online in Food Policy, suggests that farmers market vouchers can be useful tools in improving access to healthy food. This finding validates a new program created by the Agricultural Act of 2014, or farm bill, that incentivizes low-income families to buy produce at farmers markets.

"In terms of healthy food options, farmers market incentives may be able to bring a low-income person onto the same playing field as those with greater means," said Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of food studies at NYU Steinhardt and the study's lead author.

Economically disadvantaged families tend to consume diets low in fruits and vegetables, partially due to poor access to healthy food and their inability to pay for it. Farmers markets may help fill in gaps in communities commonly referred to as "food deserts," which lack access to fresh, healthy food.

One in four farmers markets in the U.S. accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. In recent years, several local governments and nonprofit organizations have augmented federal food assistance by offering vouchers to use at farmers markets. The vouchers increase the value of food assistance when used to buy fruits and vegetables at markets.

While most food assistance programs fail to address nutritional quality – for instance, SNAP benefits can be used to buy ice cream and soda – farmers market incentives can only be used on fresh produce, increasing their potential to improve consumers' diets.

To assess the effect of farmers market incentives on those receiving food assistance, Dimitri and her colleagues enrolled 281 economically disadvantaged women in their study, recruiting participants at five farmers markets in New York, San Diego and Boston. The women were all caring for young children and received federal food assistance through SNAP or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The researchers collected demographic information and surveyed the participants throughout the 12-16 week study to learn about their food shopping habits and fresh vegetable consumption. Each time participants shopped at the farmers market, they received up to $10 in vouchers to be used toward purchasing fruits and vegetables. The women matched the amount of the farmers market vouchers with cash or federal food benefits.

Despite incentives, retaining participants was a challenge, suggesting that factors other than incentives influence farmers market shopping habits. A total of 138 participants completed the study, which is consistent with retention rates for similar studies. Women who were older, visited food banks and lived in "food deserts" were the most likely to drop out of the study.

For those who completed the study, more than half reported consuming vegetables more frequently at the end of the study. Participants with low levels of education and those who consumed little fresh produce at the beginning of the study were the most likely to increase the amount of produce in their diets.

"Our food choices are very complex, and issues with food security won't be solved with a single program," Dimitri said. "Even though not all participants increased their consumption of produce, our study suggests that nutrition incentives are a promising option that can help economically disadvantaged families eat healthier diets."

Additional research is needed to understand why produce consumption did not increase among nearly half of the participants, despite their increased purchasing power, and determine what measures can be taken to engage the vulnerable group that dropped out of the study.

While are good sources of healthy food, the researchers noted that relying on them exclusively for security is problematic, as markets are usually open on limited days and closed in the winter.

Explore further: Farmers markets inspire WIC moms, but grocery-store produce costs less

Related Stories

Farmers markets inspire WIC moms, but grocery-store produce costs less

June 3, 2014
When participants in a local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program received vouchers for fruits and vegetables at area farmers markets, they ate a greater variety of vegetables and more often chose fruits or vegetables ...

Enrollment in SNAP does not substantially improve food security or dietary quality

November 15, 2013
Millions of families in the United States struggle to provide nutritionally adequate meals due to insufficient money or other resources. To combat food security issues, over one in seven Americans currently rely upon the ...

Cash incentives spur poor to buy healthier foods

November 22, 2013
(HealthDay)—A recent program encouraged healthy eating by offering extra spending power to poor people who get government assistance to buy food. The only catch: They had to purchase healthier types of food at farmers' ...

Availability of local food key to improving food security

May 9, 2011
Most strategies to assist the hungry, including food banks and providing food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are short-term, emergency solutions. Those who rely on these programs face daily ...

Perceived barriers limit WIC CVV use in Arizona

May 6, 2014
Low-income and minority communities and people participating in food assistance programs are more likely to consume fewer fruits and vegetables, depriving them of the health benefits of those foods. However, the government ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.