Why Fruit and Vegetable Incentives Really Matter

15 July 2011

farm bill, health, public policy

Written by Victoria Endsley, CFJC Intern

It is indisputable that fruit and vegetables are good for us, but that doesn’t mean that they are priority foods in our diet any longer. As industrial farmers grow subsidized corn, wheat and soy and not fruit and vegetables, our diets have naturally shifted to consume more of these products. The appeal or importance of these crops is in the revenue they make worldwide, yet within the US, as their demand grew, small to mid-size farmers were bought out by corporations who stepped in to run our farmlands. The biggest blow-back of this system is the unforeseeable health problems these foods cause and the market for lobbies and special interests that have emerged to control food production.

Among the health problems created by a change in our diet, obesity or excessive weight gain is the most financially burdensome. According to a study developed by RTI International, Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, obesity-related diseases cost us $147 billion yearly. As obesity has proven to be directly connected to poverty issues, I believe that the federal government should be responsible for financing programs that provide healthy, affordable food options for these communities in addition to directly financing poverty-relief programs.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Nutrition Service are closely monitoring a program called the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) that will provide Hampden, Massachusetts residents enrolled in the SNAP program with a 30% discount for fruit and vegetable purchases. The program will begin the operations phase in November 2011, after over a year of planning, testing and training for the program. It will provide the individual with the opportunity to put their health first when they shop, because their money will go further buying fruits and vegetables than anything else.

I am really excited about this program because it is truly the first step in empowering individuals to take back control of their health. I think that it’s clear that education can only go so far, therefore financial incentives and structured programs are needed to pave the way for a better food system. Next, we must emphasize programs that encourage exercise!

For more information on the study, please visit: http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/07/27/us-obesity-cost-idUSTRE56Q36020090727.

For more information about the Healthy Incentives Pilot program, please visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/hip/default.htm.

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One Response to “Why Fruit and Vegetable Incentives Really Matter”

  1. Ruby Says:

    Awesome! Sometimes education isn’t enough, people vote with their dollars, so a market-based approach may be key in shifting the agricultural paradigm!