A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that rebates on healthy food purchases cause people to put healthier food in their grocery carts. Led by the nonprofit research organization the Rand Corp., the analysis examined the purchases of more than 170,000 South African households, of which 60 percent participated in Discovery Vitality’ s HealthyFood program and were eligible for a cash-back rebate of up to 25 percent for healthy food purchases.
The study found that program participation led to an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods and less spending on high sugar, salty and fried foods, processed meats and fast food. According to the research, a rebate of 25 percent increased the ratio of healthy to total food purchased by 9.3 percent, increased the ratio of fruit and vegetables to total food purchases by 8.5 percent and decreased the ratio of less-desirable food to total food purchases by 7.2 percent.
“This paper provides good evidence that lower prices for healthier foods significantly alter purchasing patterns,” says Roland Sturm, a study co-author and a senior economist at Rand.
Discovery Holding’s incentive-based wellness program, Vitality, is offered to nearly four million consumers worldwide. The Vitality Group, based in Chicago, provides Vitality as a standalone program in the U.S. Vitality is offered in South Africa and the U.K. through Discovery’s health insurance subsidiaries, Discovery Health and PruHealth.
“While the research results show that diets can be shifted through the use of incentives, this is only one component of Vitality’s program and our efforts to focus on health promotion and workplace wellness,” says Derek Yach, SVP of The Vitality Group. “By leveraging the latest in behavioral economics, clinical and actuarial science, we are working to develop innovative programs to help people make healthy choices to reduce the impact and costs of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes for individuals and organizations.”