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USDA pilot to subsidize fruits and vegetables

Public health advocates have long yearned to link food assistance to good nutrition. But the question was how? Telling people what to eat is a political no-no – and it's impractical to boot: How could the government rate which of the 50,000-plus products in a grocery store are healthy? Would Diet Coke pass the test? How about juice drink Sunny Delight?

This week, the USDA took a first crucial step toward finding the answer when it announced details of a $20 million pilot program that provides incentives for recipients of SNAP, formerly called food stamps, to eat more fruits and vegetables. The money was allocated in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The so-called Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) will take place in Hampden County, Mass., a mix of 27 urban, rural and suburban cities with a total of 50,000 SNAP households. Starting in fall 2011, 7,500 households will receive 30 cents for every dollar that they spend on fruits and vegetables with their SNAP electronic benefit cards. Cambridge, Mass., consulting group Abt Associates will evaluate the pilot to assess how overall diets are affected.

Twenty million dollars isn't much when you consider that the government budget for food stamps was more than $56 billion in 2009. But philosophically, it represents a shift. For decades, the government treated hunger and obesity as unrelated phenomena. The anti-hunger lobby supported that position, arguing that a mandate on what kind of food needy people should eat is both impractical and smacks of paternalism.

But public and privately funded incentive programs are gaining ground. Wholesome Wave, a small foundation headed by chef Michel Nischan, has led the way by doubling the values of SNAP and WIC benefits when recipients spend them at farmers markets. It has also launched an innovative program, dubbed Veggies Rx, in which doctors prescribe fruit and vegetable vouchers to overweight children. This month, the Fair Food Network, a Detroit-based foundation, announced that it would offer double vouchers at five city farmers markets.

"The Healthy Incentives Pilot is an incredible step towards reducing obesity by encouraging low-income Americans to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets," Kevin Concannon, the USDA undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer Services, said in a statement. "It's time to move forward with innovative approaches like HIP to get Americans eating more healthily."

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  August 20, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags: Jane Black, nutrition  
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Good nutrition? More veggies? It promotes obesity!
I found the true cause of obesity--- overeating, overeating the wrong food. I set a new word: carbohydritis, fattening, cheap greens and grains. There is butter at the end of the food train!
How to start? Kill the food guides, kill all diets. I'll do the hartsmart change-over.

Posted by: hart0007 | August 20, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

As a market owner I see on a daily basis what the SNAP program is. A small majority of EBT holders use the card wisely. Fruits veggies, good meats pork and chicken. Then you have the EBT holders who know how to screw the system. Soda's, candy, chips and general crap. Now I know the USDA is on top of the program, after all they visit the real world all the time to see what we merchants see every day. We ave. $600 a day in EBT sales, like I said we are a small market, at least 40% of that is WASTE. I am just one small little market in a town of a thousand. Think of the thousands of markets and major stores and how many billions get wasted a year because the USDA knows what goes on in the real world. Very sad........not just for the American "middle class" tax payer but we the merchants that see our tax dollars wasted on worthless freeloaders.
I could continue my rant for another 2112 characters but I think most of you get my point.

Posted by: prwolfe | August 21, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

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