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New Study Shows Initial Success for a Healthy Food Incentive Program for Low-Income Detroiters

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Posted December 22, 2017

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be a challenge. They often cost more and have a shorter shelf life than canned and processed foods, preventing some low-income consumers from meeting their dietary needs.

“Diet-related diseases are disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities,” says Alicia Cohen, M.D., a clinical lecturer in the University of Michigan’s Department of Family Medicine and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“One of the major barriers to eating more healthfully is cost.”

To help address this issue, and support family farmers, Michigan nonprofit Fair Food Network created the healthy food incentive program Double Up Food Bucks(link is external). Double Up matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars, formerly known as food stamps, on fresh produce, to help address the cost issue.

First launched in Detroit in 2009, Double Up is now a statewide program in Michigan, active at more than 250 sites, including farmers markets, grocery stores and other retail outlets. It has also become a national model for produce incentives in 22 states and counting.

By boosting families’ food dollars, Double Up and similar incentive programs have been shown to help increase fruit and vegetable purchase and consumption. But until now little was known about who uses the program — and how often they do so.

Cohen, whose research focuses on the intersections of food insecurity and health, led a study examining the program’s use at farmers markets, intending to help program administrators and policymakers understand the initiative’s effect. Her findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine(link is external).

Cohen and her team found that Double Up users at farmers markets are demographically similar to the overall Detroit SNAP-enrolled population, with the exception that Double Up users tended to be poorer and disproportionately female. How close Double Up shoppers lived to a market was a significant factor in how likely they were to return, highlighting the importance of accessibility.

Although only about 5 percent of Detroit SNAP-enrolled households used Double Up during the study period, Cohen emphasizes that is substantially higher than the approximately 1.5 percent of SNAP enrollees who shop at farmers markets nationally.

“Diet-related diseases are disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities. One of the major barriers to eating more healthfully is cost.”

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