Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


(PHOTO: PITI TAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: PITI TAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Rebates Aim to Foster Healthier Eating in South Africa

• March 21, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: PITI TAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Can rebates on fruits and vegetables encourage us to shop more healthfully?

The best public health stratagems are often the least overt ones.

Consider New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent campaigns to cap the size of soft drinks and keep cigarettes out of view of young customers. Instead of picking up a sledgehammer—publicly shaming the industries’ heavyweights, or declaring an outright war on soda and tobacco—Bloomberg went for the ball-peen: he sought to redefine in New Yorkers’ minds the size of a “regular” Coke, from 16 to eight ounces, and to remove the visual cues that encourage us to make impulse buys, whether Marlboros or Reese’s Pieces, at the register.

Alas, no good public health scheme goes unpunished in the United States, and deep-pocketed corporate interests being what they are, Nanny Bloomberg’s initiatives seem destined for messy legal battles. In other corners of the world, meanwhile, governments are busy trying to do what the American one seems unable to: save people from themselves.

In South Africa, a three-year campaign by the country’s largest health insurer has demonstrated that customers who are given rebates on fruits, vegetables, and other nutritionist-approved foods quickly change their dietary habits. Healthful eating? It just makes good cents.

The HealthyFood program, sponsored by insurer Discovery, offers its beneficiaries a 10 to 25 percent rebate on produce and other smart selections—some 6,000 items total, including canned veggies and non-fat dairy products—at hundreds of Pick n Pay supermarkets around the country. Using scanner data, researchers from the Rand Corporation were able to track the grocery purchases of 169,000 Discovery clients, 100,000 of whom were enrolled in HealthyFood; the remaining 69,000 were not.

Published online this week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the results show that among HealthyFood enrollees receiving a 10 percent rebate for good supermarket behavior, the ratio of healthful food to total food purchased increased 6 percent, while the ratio of unhealthful food—products high in trans fats, sugar, salt, and refined starches—decreased by nearly the same amount. When the rebate was bumped to 25 percent, customers bought even more fruits and vegetables; their healthful expenditures increased close to 10 percent, while their unhealthful expenditures fell 7 percent.

Of course, a healthy diet has to do with more than how you stock your pantry. Sedentary office life, a culture of snacking, and too-generous portion sizes are as much to blame for our obesity epidemic as poor supermarket choices. Indeed, we’d be better off if more Americans simply had the luxury of shopping at greengrocers and farmers’ markets, rather than corner stores.

But if the “psychology of saving” and knocking a few pennies off the cost of carrots and kohlrabi can motivate Safeway shoppers to buy fewer Ding Dongs, well, that’s an appetizing approach, too.

Kevin Charles Redmon
Kevin Charles Redmon is a journalist and critic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

More From Kevin Charles Redmon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.