Voucher scheme shown to improve poor families’ diet
Press release issued: 23 May 2018
A scheme providing fruit and veg vouchers to low-income families with young children has brought about significant nutritional improvements in families’ diets, new research has shown.
The UK Healthy Start Scheme, which sees 450,000 families receive vouchers worth £3.10 per week per child, has increased their spending on fresh fruit and vegetables by around 15 per cent.
The findings from the University of Bristol, the University of Manchester and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) come at a time of debate over the UK-wide sugar tax and the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland – initiatives to help in the fight against obesity.
Although the UK Healthy Start Scheme isn't so widely-known, it has achieved significantly positive results since its introduction in November 2006. The means-tested scheme targets pregnant women and families with children aged one to three, giving them vouchers they can spend on fruit, vegetables and milk.
Using scanner data that records all grocery purchases families take home, the researchers compared grocery baskets before and after the introduction of the scheme for families that were eligible, compared to those for families that were ineligible, and found that eligible households were spending an extra £2.43 on fresh fruit and vegetables each month – a rise of 15 per cent.
Even though families could have compensated for buying more fruit and veg by spending less on other healthy items, researchers found this wasn't the case.
The nutritional make-up of all food purchases improved, driven by increases in levels of fibre, beta-carotene (vitamin A), potassium, iron and zinc, including a significant increase in the proportion of households meeting their recommended intake for iron and potassium.
The overall positive effect in spending is driven by households, who previously spent less than the value of the vouchers on fruit and vegetables before the introduction of the scheme. These are households who are likely to benefit most from more fruit and vegetables in their diet.
This study, published in the Journal of Health Economics, highlights the importance of the scheme for low-income families – a group most likely to benefit from more fruit and vegetables in their diet.
Previous research from the University of Bristol found that parents highly valued the scheme, arguing it made a significant contribution to their weekly shopping budget.
Dr Stephanie von Hinke, from the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol, co-author of the latest research, said: "Here is evidence of a scheme that actually works and has increased spending on fruit and vegetables among a group of households that arguably need it the most.
"Adding fruit and vegetables to your diet delivers significant nutritional benefits, which in the longer term should translate into health improvements."
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the European Research Council (ERC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
'Getting a healthy start: The effectiveness of targeted benefits for improving dietary choices' by Rachel Griffith, Stephanie von Hinke and Sarah Smith in the Journal of Health Economics.