Link between cash incentives and healthy shopping habits

(Photo: Bev Lloyd-Roberts)

A new study suggests people are more likely to buy healthy foods where there are cashback incentives. 

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked at the purchases of more than 170,000 South African households, 60% of whom were participating in the Discovery Vitality Healthy Food programme.

As part of the programme, participants were eligible for a cashback rebate of up to 25% for healthy food purchases.

According to the study by nonprofit research organisation RAND Corporation, a cashback of 25% increased the ratio of healthy to total food purchased by 9.3%.  The ratio of fruit and vegetables to total food purchases increased by 8.5% and the ratio of less-desirable food to total food purchases decreased by 7.2%.

Overall, the incentives led to an increase in purchases of fruit, vegetables, and wholegrain foods, and a decrease in the purchase of fast food and fried food, as well as of food products high in sugar, salt and processed meats.

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Roland Sturm, study co-author and senior economist at RAND said: "This paper provides good evidence that lower prices for healthier foods significantly alter purchasing patterns."

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