Incentives to Eat Healthy: Evidence from a Grocery Store Field Experiment

38 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2015

See all articles by John A. List

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Anya Samek

Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR); University of Southern California - Department of Economics

Terri Zhu

Louis' Groceries

Date Written: September 1, 2015

Abstract

We use a field experiment to investigate the effect of incentives on food purchase decisions at a grocery store. We recruit over 200 participants and track their purchases for a period of 6 months, permitting us a glimpse of more than 3,500 individual shopping trips. We randomize participants to one of several treatments, in which we incentivize fresh fruit and vegetable purchases, provide tips for fruit and vegetable preparation, or both. We report several key insights. First, our informational content treatment has little effect. Second, we find an important price effect: modest pecuniary incentives more than double the proportion of dollars spent on produce in the grocery store. Third, we find an interesting pattern of consumption after the experiment ends: even when incentives are removed, the treatment group has higher fruit and vegetable purchases compared to the control group. These long-term results are in stark contrast to either a standard price model or a behavioral model of 'crowd out.' Rather, our results are consonant with a habit formation model. This opens up the distinct possibility that short term incentives can be used as a key instrument to combat obesity.

Keywords: field experiment, incentives, education, food choice, grocery, habit formation

JEL Classification: I12, C93

Suggested Citation

List, John A. and Samek, Anya and Zhu, Terri, Incentives to Eat Healthy: Evidence from a Grocery Store Field Experiment (September 1, 2015). CESR-Schaeffer Working Paper No. 2015-025. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2664818 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2664818

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Anya Samek (Contact Author)

Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) ( email )

635 Downey Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089-3332
United States

University of Southern California - Department of Economics ( email )

3620 South Vermont Ave. Kaprielian (KAP) Hall, 300
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Terri Zhu

Louis' Groceries ( email )

United States

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