Research finds that cash can help stressed-out people eat healthier

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Healthy food, Vegetables, Fruit

Parents often find creative ways to get their kids to eat their broccoli, such as dessert, extra screen time or even bribery. But what about adults? It turns out that if offered cash, adults can be persuaded to eat their fruits and vegetables too.

The study, "Stress and number of servings of fruit and vegetables consumed: Buffering effects of monetary incentives,"​ examined the effects of stress and its role when offered incentives on fruit and vegetable consumption. 

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder enlisted 128 participants to either self-monitor their fruit and vegetable consumption or self-monitor combined with earning monetary incentives for behavior. Some participants were paid $1 for each serving of fruits and vegetables they ate, up to $5 per day, while others received no monetary incentive at all. 

More money, more health

The participants reported their stress and intake of fruits and vegetables daily over the 21-day intervention. The results suggest that on average, daily reports of higher stress were associated with fewer fruits and vegetables consumed on that day. However, when offered cash for eating their Brussels sprouts, the participants maintained healthy eating habits, even when feeling stressed out.

The results, published in the Journal of Health Psychology​, highlight how a little incentive can go a long way. "We wondered if we associated a more positive thing with healthy behaviors, is there any way we might be able to offset that stress effect? So, if you see a carrot less as something like, ‘Ugh, gosh, I have to eat a carrot' and more, ‘I get paid to eat a carrot,’ does that mitigate the effects of stress on healthy eating?"​ asked Angela Bryan, professor of psychology and neuroscience and one of the study's co-authors. 

Bryan said that once people recognize the association between stress and diet, then they’re more likely to put effort into healthy behavior during times of stress. 

Using incentives to promote healthy behavior

The results prop up "patient engagement" --  a concept promoted by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The premise is that monetary incentives for practicing healthy behavior can make a significant impact on health care. 

According to the Commonwealth Fund, a private organization that advocates for better health care, several states are developing healthy programs that offer incentives for people to quit smoking, lose weight, hit the gym, and access prenatal care.

“These studies suggest that incentives may be a novel method for buffering against the negative effect of daily stress on eating a healthy diet.”​ The researchers added, “Diet is a key factor of human health, and additional research is needed in order to understand the psychological causes, consequences, and moderators of dietary behavior.” 


J Health Psychol. 

2019 Oct 30:1359105319884620. doi: 10.1177/1359105319884620

"Stress and number of servings of fruit and vegetables consumed: Buffering effects of monetary incentives”

Authors: C. Gardiner, et al

Related topics: Research

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