Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 21, 2014

The USDA to Guide 47 Million Americans with Healthier Grocery Habits

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. Being overweight has been attributed to many of the chronic conditions plaguing many countries around the world, including 44 percent of diabetes, 23 percent of ischemic heart disease, and between 7 and 41 percent of certain cancers. In the U.S., the National Institute of Health (NIH) says more than two out of three adults are considered to be overweight or obese, while one third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. This has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish new guidelines to encourage consumers to eat healthy by implementing changes in grocery stores.

Although the obesity epidemic is a nationwide problem, it is especially high amongst economically disadvantaged individuals. That is why the agency commissioned a study to make recommendations on how it can encourage the more than 47 million Americans who are currently on food stamps to spend their benefits on nutritious foods.

The panel recommended six proposed financial and non-financial incentive approaches in order to encourage this particular group to purchase more fruits and vegetables. The financial incentives are an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) rebate, 2-for-1 price promotions, discount coupons, and a USDA Live Better reward card. The non-financial incentives are USDA MyCart, and Targeted merchandizing and concurrent promotions.

In addition to these recommendations the project had three main objectives. The first was to develop a plan to provide a front of package (FOP) and shelving system that can be applied so healthier products can be identified easily by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, as well as other consumers. Second was to establish an approach based on research to promote the purchase of healthy foods by SNAP participants, while the third objective was to determine the impact of implementing both objectives with a pilot study in the future.

"The report is looking to encourage grocery stores to implement marketing strategies that will entice consumers to purchase healthier items by strategically stalking and displaying these products. This includes creating aisles for healthier items and making products that have higher nutritional ratings more visible," said the report.

While the report had many great points, one of the conclusions it made was "FOP and shelf-labeling systems that are straightforward and do not require interpretation or complex processing to contextualize meaning are more useful to consumers, especially low-literacy populations." What this means is the USDA, FDA, DGA, and other agencies have to come together to introduce a labeling system that makes it easier for everyone to understand what they are putting in their bodies.

Edited by Adam Brandt
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