Columbia, SC — Two out of three South Carolinians are obese or overweight. Obesity is taking a toll on our state in lives and money. As Gov. Nikki Haley and DHEC Director Catherine Templeton have highlighted, bold and strategic actions are needed to reduce obesity trends.
One action is to incentivize purchases of healthy foods. Doubling federal food assistance dollars at farmers’ markets helps low-income families gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Double bucks programs, now available in 25 states, also help small-scale rural farmers grow their business, and their bottom line.
In Orangeburg, we piloted a doubling program that provided a $5 match for the first $5 spent in food assistance dollars at a health-center-based farmers’ market. The program was wildly successful. Four times more SNAP dollars came to the farmers’ market — and into the pockets of small-scale S.C. farmers — after the doubling program was introduced. This revenue is more likely to stay within rural communities in South Carolina as farmers shop in the community, invest in local banks and pay workers.
The return on investment was remarkable. Investing $1 in the doubling program resulted in two additional food-assistance dollars in revenue for small-scale rural farmers. Low-income families also benefited. These families were able to take home — and eat — more S.C.-grown blueberries, sweet potatoes, squash and tomatoes because of the double bucks program.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential to improve health. In other states, double-bucks programs have resulted in increases in fruit and vegetable intake among low-income families.
Double bucks programs are a way to make healthy choices easier while increasing economic opportunity for small-scale farmers. They offer a win for farmers, a win for families, a win for communities and a win for taxpayers who foot a portion of the bill for diet-related health problems. Double bucks programs are a promising approach to improve the SNAP program in South Carolina.
Assistant Professor of Social Work, USC
Director, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, USC