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An Apple a Day

San Diego health advocates team up to create healthy eating incentives for low-income families.
The Fresh Fund program made it possible to purchase fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.
The Fresh Fund program made it possible to purchase fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.

It is no secret that a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand; but making quality foods available to everyone is an ever-progressing mission. For San Diegans using government assisted nutritional aid, the Fresh Fund program made it possible to purchase fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.

A team at the Institute for Public Health at San Diego State University in partnership with San Diego County Health and Human Services worked to execute and evaluate the program.

How it works

Federal funding from the Center for Disease Control’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative kick-started Fresh Fund as well as similar programs across the United States. Starting in June 2010, people using government assisted nutritional aid could use their credits to purchase produce at five San Diego farmers markets. For every dollar spent, participants would receive up to $20 in matched incentives.

Food deserts

Executive Director of the SDSU Institute for Public Health, Suzanne Lindsay, describes the geographical areas in need of nutritional aid as “food deserts” where shopping at a gas station might be more convenient than finding a grocery store. Participants living in these food deserts were the most enthusiastic and receptive to Fresh Fund.

“We saw a huge surge of people coming to the markets that had never come before,” said Lindsay, a professor of epidemiology. “A whole new demographic began to show up.”

Enthusiastic participants

More than 7,000 individuals enrolled in Fresh Fund, which was well over the initial goal of 3,000 participants. In order to track the program’s progress, surveys were administered at the beginning of enrollment, after 3 to 6 months, and again after 12 months. An overwhelming majority of participants stated that Fresh Fund was an important part of their life and reported healthier overall eating habits.

Not only did the customers benefit, but also the farmers. Forty-eight percent of all market revenue was brought in by Fresh Fund participants.

Live Well

The County of San Diego took particular interest in this project because of the county-wide Live Well program, a long-term strategy to help all county inhabitants become healthy, safe and thriving. Fresh Fund’s dual impact on the health of San Diego citizens and the farmer’s market economy set the initiative in motion.

“Dr. Lindsay and her team’s interests aligned well with the Live Well vision of making a long term impact,” said Lindsey McDermid, program director of the San Diego Chronic Disease and Equity Unit."The SDSU Institute for Public Health was chosen to evaluate the program because of shared objectives and ultimate goals."

The next step

Although funding for the program has run out, there are still farmer’s markets using the same type of incentive program created by Fresh Fund because of its success and high demand. In the future, Dr. Lindsay would like to conduct studies which quantitatively measure the health of Fresh Fund participants in order to continue improving the health of San Diego’s citizens.

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