Farmers Market Incentive Programs and Access to Local Fruits and Vegetables among Low-Income, Food Insecure Households

Childhood obesity, similar to most of our nation’s health inequities, is replicated in extreme in underserved communities. Nearly 40% of Latino and African American children are overweight or obese (White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, 2011). Low-income children are more likely to be overweight or obese than higher income children and are also the most likely to be on food assistance known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) (Ogden et al. 2010). Among African American children, 90% will be on food assistance at some point during childhood (Rank 2009). Price discrepancies between fresh fruits and vegetables and packaged foods inadvertently incentivize the consumption of foods packed with refined sugars, grains, and added fats (Drenowski 2004). Today the bulk of SNAP benefits are spent on artificially cheap, highly processed prepared foods such as instant rice, instant noodles, hamburger pasta meals, and bagged snacks (Schumacher, 2011). SNAP is linked with increases in BMI among the poorest children, especially in cities with more expensive food pricing, where purchasing power is the lowest. This emphasizes the role of food prices as exacerbating childhood obesity (Kimbro 2010). In response, incentive programs were designed to increase the purchasing power of SNAP and other food assistance programs when spent on local produce at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and in some cases, community- supported agriculture (CSA) programs (Schumacher 2011). Findings demonstrate an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption associated with a decrease in cost. Additionally, every five dollars in new SNAP benefits has an economic multiplier effect that generates as much as nine dollars in total economic activity (USDA 2011). Findings suggest increasing the number of farmers markets with incentive programs, public knowledge of such programs, and SNAP enrollment.

Date Published: Spring 2013

Author Affiliation: Emory University: Rollins School of Public Health

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