The high cost of fruit and vegetables can be a barrier to healthy eating, particularly among lower-income households with children.

That’s why Health Affairs, Bethesda, Md., examined the effects of a financial incentive on purchases at a single supermarket by primary shoppers from low-income households who had at least one child.

Participation in an in-store Cooking Matters event was requested for incentivized subjects, but optional for their non-incentivized controls. The sample included but was not limited to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants.

Compared to the controls, incentivized shoppers—who receive an immediate 50% discount on qualifying fruit and vegetables—increased weekly spending on those items by 27%; this change was for fresh produce. There was no change in purchases of frozen and canned produce or unhealthy foods.

The estimated annual average daily consumption of fruit and vegetables by the incentivized shoppers and by one designated child per incentivized household did not change. Attendance at Cooking Matters events was low. These findings support financial incentive programs increase fruit and vegetable purchases, but suggest that effective complementary approaches are needed to improve diet quality.