When our Jewish Federation’s Mitzvah Food Program launched its groundbreaking digital ordering system, allowing food pantry clients to order groceries from personal computers and mobile devices, we were really excited. It felt like uncharted territory. Turns out, others in the field agreed — so much so that now a new research partnership with University of Pennsylvania, fueled by a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, has the potential to transform food pantries everywhere.

“This research study will be the first to rigorously evaluate the long-term behavioral and health effects of low-cost healthy food nudges in a food pantry,” says Dr. Christina Roberto of the Perelman School of Medicine’s Psychology of Eating and Consumer Health (PEACH) lab, who is leading the study.

Using our online ordering system, Penn’s multi-year randomized-controlled trial will examine how food pantry clients are influenced by on-screen interventions, or “nudges.” In other contexts, nudges — like adding traffic light colors to signal healthy and less healthy choices — have successfully led to healthier food choices. Here, the research team will make nudges via the digital ordering system’s web interface and then evaluate clients’ resulting food choices and overall health; in making health assessments, researchers will look at clients’ bloodwork, blood pressure and weight at regular intervals.

The results could be massive, helping to define practices of food pantries across the entire country. “We are very excited to partner with the Jewish Federation on this innovative study,” says Dr. Roberto.

For more information about the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Mitzvah Food Program — including our five pantry locations and how you can volunteer — click here.