Farmers’ Market Vouchers Boost Produce Consumption Among WIC Participants, Study Finds

Posted by Stacy on January 18, 2008

Jan 16, 2008

A study in this month’s American Journal of Public Health suggests that participants in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) consume more fruits and vegetables when they shop at farmers’ markets rather than grocery stores, the New York Times reports. To evaluate the efficacy of produce subsidies, University of California-Los Angeles researchers followed 602 local WIC participants for one year. During the first six months, women in the intervention group received $10 in weekly vouchers to purchase produce from a nearby farmers’ market or supermarket, while those in the control group received coupons for non-food purchases in exchange for information about their eating habits. The researchers report that participants in the intervention group increased their fruit and vegetable consumption and sustained the increase six months after the coupons were suspended. Specifically, when compared with control group participants, women shopping at farmers’ markets ate an additional 1.4 servings of produce per 1,000 kilocalories (kcal) and those shopping at supermarkets ate an additional 0.8 servings per 1,000 kcal. Although it was unclear why mothers shopping at farmers’ markets bought the most produce, some women reported finding fresher, higher quality produce at farmers markets. Others said they enjoyed the community experience and opportunity to interact directly with growers. The Times suggests that, while the findings reinforce the positive impact of produce subsidies on fruit and vegetable consumption, they also indicate that vouchers provided by the WIC program may not offer enough support to boost produce consumption. Even after new guidelines take effect in February, the WIC program will offer monthly produce vouchers of $10 for breastfeeding mothers, $8 for all other mothers and $6 for each child per month, compared with $10 a week provided during this study. The researchers, meanwhile, point out that the findings indicate that WIC participants value fresh fruits and vegetables and suggest that increasing their accessibility will increase participants’ consumption (Parker-Pope, New York Times, 1/15/08 [registration required]); Herman et al., American Journal of Public Health, January 2008 [subscription required]).