Economic Incentives

Fruits and vegetables on a supermarket shelf.Economic Incentives
Evidence is summarized for the impact of economic incentives on the sale and consumption of healthier foods, as well as BMI or body weight outcomes.

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In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the use of economic incentives to modify dietary behaviour at both the individual and population level (1). Economic incentives are defined in terms of either enabling or reinforcing behaviour by decreasing the cost to the consumer. Subsidies in the form of price discounts and vouchers for healthy food purchases are well-known examples of economic incentives.  This brief summarizes findings related to the impact of economic incentives on the sale and consumption of healthier foods, and body weight outcomes.

Key Findings:

  • Economic incentives may encourage the purchase (1-6, 8, 11) and consumption (1-2, 4-11) of healthier food items, both when they were applied on their own, such as a subsidy, or in combination with other measures, such as a tax, sales/promotional strategy, or an educational component.
  • There are few studies that assess the impact of economic incentives on body weight outcomes, but limited findings show a positive contribution to improved health and reduction of obesity. This is especially true when intervention components like subsidies and taxes are large (7-12).
  • By reducing the cost of healthier food items, economic incentives may also benefit those of lower socioeconomic status, thus reducing inequities and improving health (5, 11, 12).

Explore Policies Related to Obesity Prevention: CPAC’s Prevention Policies Directory.

The Directory is a freely-accessible online database of policies relating to cancer and chronic disease prevention, many of which address obesity prevention. It allows users to search by risk factor, jurisdiction, geographical location, and document type and provides summaries and direct access to policy documents.

Click here to find policies related to healthy food procurement policies and programs in the Prevention Policies Directory.


1. An, R. (2013). Effectiveness of subsidies in promoting healthy food purchases and consumption: a review of field experiments. Public health nutrition, 16(07), 1215-1228
3. Black, A. P., Brimblecombe, J., Eyles, H., Morris, P., Vally, H., & Kerin, O. (2012). Food subsidy programs and the health and nutritional status of disadvantaged families in high income countries: a systematic review. BMC public health, 12(1), 1099.
4. Escaron, A. L. (2014). Supermarket and Grocery Store Based Interventions to Promote Healthful Food Choices and Eating Practices: A Systematic Review (vol 10, pg E50, 2013). PREVENTING CHRONIC DISEASE, 11.
5. Eyles, H., Mhurchu, C. N., Nghiem, N., & Blakely, T. (2012). Food pricing strategies, population diets, and non-communicable disease: a systematic review of simulation studies. PLoS Medicine, 9(12), e1001353.
6. Jensen, J. D., Hartmann, H., de Mul, A., Schuit, A., Brug, J., & ENERGY Consortium. (2011). Economic incentives and nutritional behavior of children in the school setting: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 69(11), 660-674.
7. Liberato, S. C., Bailie, R., & Brimblecombe, J. (2014). Nutrition interventions at point-of-sale to encourage healthier food purchasing: a systematic review. BMC public health, 14(1), 919.
8. Powell, L. M., Chriqui, J. F., Khan, T., Wada, R., & Chaloupka, F. J. (2013). Assessing the potential effectiveness of food and beverage taxes and subsidies for improving public health: a systematic review of prices, demand and body weight outcomes. Obesity reviews, 14(2), 110-128.
9. Purnell, J. Q., Gernes, R., Stein, R., Sherraden, M. S., & Knoblock-Hahn, A. (2014). A systematic review of financial incentives for dietary behavior change.Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(7), 1023-1035.
10. Thow, A. M., Downs, S., & Jan, S. (2014). A systematic review of the effectiveness of food taxes and subsidies to improve diets: Understanding the recent evidence. Nutrition reviews, 72(9), 551-565.
11. Thow, A. M., Jan, S., Leeder, S., & Swinburn, B. (2010). The effect of fiscal policy on diet, obesity and chronic disease: a systematic review. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 88(8), 609- 614.
12. Wall, J., Mhurchu, C. N., Blakely, T., Rodgers, A., & Wilton, J. (2006). Effectiveness of monetary incentives in modifying dietary behavior: a review of randomized, controlled trials. Nutrition reviews, 64(12), 518-531.