Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has selected Abt Associates to lead a team that will evaluate a ground-breaking pilot program aimed at encouraging healthier eating among lower-income Americans. The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) will enroll households in Hampden County, Massachusetts that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). For every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP benefits cards, HIP will add 30 cents to the balance on their cards — thus cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one third.
The HIP is a creative response by the USDA/FNS to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which called for a demonstration program to test ways to increase SNAP participants' consumption of fruits and vegetables including use of financial incentives at the point-of-sale. Fruit and vegetable intake reduces the long-term risk of obesity and also reduces the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer, the major causes of death in the United States.
Most adults fall far short of the fruit and vegetable intake goals of the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Only 28.4 percent of adults meet the fruit guidelines, and only 32.5 percent meet the vegetable guidelines. SNAP participants and other low-income Americans are the people least likely to consume sufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables. Abt Associates is leading a team that includes Westat; the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley; and Imadgen, LLC. Collectively, this team has decades of experience executing nutrition program studies, implementing and analyzing experimental evaluations, conducting state-of-the-art nutrient data collection, and working with SNAP systems that manage administrative data and electronic benefits transfer (EBT).
As reported by the White House's Office of the First Lady, “One third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. A recent study put the health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year. This epidemic also impacts the nation's security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.” As a complement to the Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity led by the First Lady, the Healthy Incentives Pilot aims to improve the diets of adult SNAP participants and their children.
Abt Associates researchers will work with officials in Hampden County to randomly assign SNAP participant households in the site where HIP is piloted to either a treatment group that receives the 30 percent incentive or a “business as usual” control group (which receives SNAP benefits, but without the incentive).
The researchers will then select a sub-sample of participants in the treatment and control groups, conduct a baseline interview with each, and then conduct two follow-up interviews. Using 24-hour dietary recalls and additional items, the interviews will measure the impact of the incentive on consumption of fruits and vegetables and on diet quality more generally.
Researchers will also measure impacts on food retailers and other SNAP stakeholders. The evaluation will assess the feasibility of HIP, the lessons learned, and the potential for implementing HIP nationwide.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.