Evaluating the Healthy Incentives Pilot Demonstration
- The USDA Food and Nutrition Service funded a pilot project to increase fruit and vegetable intake by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Abt Associates and partners evaluated the impact of the pilot project in Massachusetts
- The evaluation found increased purchases and consumption of fruits and vegetables among households in the pilot
Most U.S. adults do not meet the Dietary Guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, especially people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and other low-income Americans. While evidence suggests that improved diet quality could help reduce rates of chronic disease and obesity, the reality is that fruits and vegetables are often expensive compared to other, less nutritious food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service worked with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance to create and implement the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) in Hampden County.
HIP tested a way to make fruits and vegetables more affordable for SNAP participants. The participants received a financial incentive for purchasing targeted fruits and vegetables (TFVs). For every dollar of SNAP benefits spent on TFVs at participating retailers, households received an additional 30 cents on their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which could then be spent on any SNAP-eligible food or beverage.
Abt Associates, and partners Westat and MAXIMUS, evaluated the impact of HIP on fruit and vegetable intake. We used a random assignment research design, widely viewed as providing the strongest evidence of causal impact. In addition to determining impacts consumption, the evaluation also assessed the program’s implementation and documented costs, focusing on operational feasibility and potential for national scale-up.
The evaluation found HIP had a significant impact on diets. Most notably:
- HIP increased participants’ fruit and vegetable consumption by 26 percent. This increase was both statistically significant and large enough to be nutritionally relevant;
- HIP households spent 11 percent more of their SNAP benefits on targeted fruits and vegetables than non-HIP households;
- Counting both SNAP benefits and cash, HIP households spent $6.15 more, or 8.5 percent more, each month on all fruits and vegetables, compared to non-HIP households. By this measure, HIP households spent $78.17 per month versus $72.02 monthly among non-HIP households; and
- Distance to HIP participating food retailers did not affect the impact of HIP on fruit and vegetable spending or consumption.