The formation and malleability of dietary habits: A field experiment with low income families (with Noemi Berlin, Jonathan James and Valeria Skafida)
Abstract: We conduct a field experiment with 285 low income families with children below the age of 6 and evaluate two interventions targeting dietary habits. In one treatment, families received food groceries at home for free for twelve weeks and were asked to prepare five specific healthy meals per week. In the other treatment, families were simply asked to reduce snacking and eat at regular times, also for twelve weeks. We evaluate the impact of the interventions on diet and BMI over the course of three years. We find evidence that children's BMI distribution shifted significantly relative to the control group, i.e. they became relatively ``thinner''. This effect persists three years after the intervention for the first intervention, but fades away for the second. However, we find little evidence that their preferences changed in favour of healthier foods. The most plausible explanation for the change observed is that children were restricted access to foods high in sugar in the treated groups. The evidence for parents shows no coherent picture of changes in diet, and no effect on BMI, or any point over the course of the three years.
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