USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is a nationally representative survey of American households that collects comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions. Detailed information was collected about foods purchased or otherwise acquired for consumption at home and away from home, including foods acquired through food and nutrition assistance programs. In addition, the survey collects a wide array of demographic and other information about the households including information on food security status and SNAP participation. The survey includes nationally representative data from 4,826 households, including SNAP households and low-income households not participating in SNAP—both of which are oversampled in the survey, as well as higher income households. 

UKCPR, in cooperation with the Economic Research Service (ERS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with the University of Illinois, launched the FoodAPS Research Initiative in 2014. The program competitively awarded grants to provide rigorous research that utilized the new USDA National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to expand our understanding of (1) household food behaviors and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program including the issues of benefit adequacy, diet quality, cost of a healthy diet, and food security, and (2) the role of the local food environment and other geographic factors on household food purchase and acquisition decisions. In addition to the FoodAPS data, geographically linked data on the local food environment and food prices compiled as part of the FoodAPS Geography Component (FoodAPS-GC) was available. Fifteen grants were awarded across the two topical domains. The final reports are available as discussion papers below, along with a summary of those reports by James Ziliak and Craig Gundersen.



Estimating the associations between SNAP and food insecurity, obesity, and food purchases with imperfect administrative measures of participation

Administrative data are considered the “gold standard” when measuring program participation, but little evidence exists on the potential problems with administrative records or their implications for econometric estimates. We explore issues with administrative data using the FoodAPS, a unique dataset that contains two different administrative measures of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation as well as a survey-based measure. We first document substantial ambiguity in the two administrative participation variables and show that they disagree with each other almost as often as they disagree with self-reported participation. Estimated participation and misreporting rates can be meaningfully sensitive to choices made to resolve this ambiguity and disagreement. We then explore sensitivity in regression estimates of the associations between SNAP and food insecurity, obesity, and the Healthy Eating Index. The signs remain the same regardless of the SNAP participation measure used, and the coefficient estimates are in most cases not statistically different from each other. However, there are some meaningful differences in the magnitudes of the estimates and their levels of statistical significance. 


The spatial context of food shopping: Undersanding how local food retailer access and pricing affect household behavior

Rising rates of food insecurity have led researchers to examine how the local retail food environment affects household food purchases, consumption, and food security. Research has paid particular attention to the presence of “food deserts,” areas with low or no spatial access to retail stores, such as supermarkets and large grocery stores, which sell fresh food and groceries at affordable prices. Low spatial access to supermarkets and grocery stores is thought to increase the costs of acquiring food for the household and reduce household food consumption. Few data sources, however, can link local food retailers and pricing, household food purchases, and food insecurity in space. To address these gaps in the literature, this project explores the relationships between household food security, food purchases, food pricing, and the geography of the local retail food infrastructure, using unique public and restricted use data files from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Household shopping outcomes are modeled in preliminary analyses reported here as a function of spatial access to retailers. We believe our findings will be of interest to policymakers, advocates, and program executives seeking to improve food security among low-income populations.



Food security and geographic factors in food purchase and acquisition decisions

In April 2012 the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture embarked on an ambitious new data collection enterprise known as the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). FoodAPS is innovative in that it is the first nationally representative household survey to collect comprehensive data on household food expenditures and acquisitions, including those obtained using benefits from food assistance programs. The survey includes data from 4,826 households, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households, low-income eligible households not participating in SNAP, and higher income households. This report summarizes findings from research projects using FoodAPS data. These projects were managed by UKCPR through a grant funded by the USDA's Economic Research Service.

The influence of SNAP participation and food environment on nutritional quality of food at home purchases

A growing body of research describes how individuals make food shopping decisions in both time and space. The FoodAPS dataset provides a unique opportunity for understanding these patterns among a large sample across income, SNAP status, and settings. We addressed three questions in our research: (1) Where do participants shop for food at home (FAH) and how do individual characteristics interact with store characteristics and distance? (2) How does the nutritional content of foods purchased change as time from SNAP distribution increases? and (3) How does store choice influence the nutritional quality of FAH purchases? We used a conditional logit model to answer the first question, determining that overall, participants choose full-service supermarkets, larger stores, and stores closer to home but that store choice is influences by SNAP status, ethnicity, race, sex, car ownership and the level of urbanization of the county of residence. For the second question, we used general linear modeling to determine changes over time in dietary quality of FAH purchases, as measured by composite Health Eating Index (HEI) score. We found an increase in HEI-2010 score in the days immediately following SNAP distribution followed by a decrease until 20 days after distribution and then a moderate increase to the end of the SNAP-cycle. For the final question, we used a generalized estimating equation (GEE) model for repeated-measures to analyze the impact of store type on composite HEI score of FAH events. We found that purchases made at limited assortment stores had significantly higher HEI scores while dollar stores had significantly lower HEI scores than purchases at conventional supermarkets. Participating in SNAP had significant positive impact on composite HEI scores, relative to households income-eligible for SNAP but not participating. These results require closer consideration but have important implications for policies relating to what types of foods stores should be subsidized, through healthy food financing initiatives and SNAP and WIC authorization, and the way SNAP benefits are distributed over the course of the month.

Causes and consequences of the calorie crunch

Monthly welfare programs such as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) produce consistent cycles of expenditure and consumption amongst recipients. Food insecurity and negative behavioral outcomes track these cycles. This paper leverages new data from the USDA, the FoodAPS survey, and to answer a variety of questions related to these phenomena: Are consumption and expenditure cycles correlated? Who bears the burden of food shortages at the end of each benefit month? Does diet quality track food expenditure? I find robust expenditure and consumption cycles in the FoodAPS data, but contrary to popular belief, they are only weakly correlated. The youngest children are spared from cyclical food shortages, but school-aged children experience them when they are out of school. Universal participation of the sample in school meal programs while in school (and the complete lack of participation in summer meal programs) suggests that these programs may mitigate a great deal of children’s food insecurity. Diet quality declines over the course of the month, compounding the impact of fewer meals on health. Food access issues cannot explain the identified cycles. We interpret these findings as evidence consistent with a consumption-driven calorie crunch in which the expenditure cycle is a response to the previous month’s consumption deprivation.

Supermarket proximity and price: Food insecurity and obesity in the United States

Our research aims to address understand how both the subjective experience and objective measures of the “distance problem” and “food price problem” are associated with household food insecurity and obesity. First, we estimate the association of perceived distance and low prices with food insecurity and obesity. Next, we estimate how objectively measured access to supermarkets – based on presence of supermarkets and prices – relate to food insecurity and obesity. Specifically, our research questions are as follows:
1. Are individuals who select their primary supermarket based on perceived price or proximity more likely to live in a food insecure household and be obese, compared to those who select their primary supermarket based on both low prices and perceived proximity?
2. Are individuals who reside in a food desert more likely to be a part of a food insecure household and be obese, compared to those who do not live in a food desert?
3. Are individuals who reside in a high poverty area with higher than average supermarket prices are more likely to be a part of a food insecure household and be obese, compared to those who live in areas with low or average supermarket prices?

Variation in food prices and SNAP adequacy for purchasing the thrifty food plan

Whether Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are adequate to provide food security for eligible households is an important and timely policy question. While the nominal value of SNAP benefits is fixed across states (except for Hawaii and Alaska), variation in food prices across geographic areas is dramatic, and the real value of SNAP benefits varies widely across the U.S. Our research provides new evidence on geographic variation in the adequacy of SNAP benefits to purchase the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). Using multiple methods to estimate the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) faced by households across the nation, and several measures of the SNAP benefits available to them, we consistently find that a substantial fraction of SNAP-recipient households receive benefits that are insufficient to purchase the TFP. Our primary estimates indicate that SNAP benefits (plus 30 percent of income) are insufficient for approximately 20-30 percent of households to purchase the TFP. Sufficiency rates increase monotonically as we expand the distance within which the household is assumed to be able to shop. For households who are unable to afford the TFP, average dollar shortfalls between the cost of the TFP and SNAP benefits (plus 30 percent of income) are often as large as $150 per month. When shoppers are assumed to be able to purchase the TFP at the minimum-cost store in the area, SNAP benefits are sufficient for over 90 percent of households. However, this assumption seems unlikely to hold for many SNAP households.

The effect of food price on food insecurity and diet quality: Exploring potential moderating roles of SNAP and consumer competency

Higher food prices may aggravate household food insecurity and hurt diet quality. Using a sample of low-income households from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), this study examines whether local food prices affect food insecurity and nutritional quality of foods acquired, and how households use competent consumer behaviors to mitigate any adverse effects of price. Financial management practices, nutrition literacy, and conscientious food shopping practices were considered for consumer competency. Our findings indicate that low-income households in higher-cost areas, regardless of whether they participate in SNAP or not, are more likely to adopt loyalty or other store savings programs than those in areas where food cost is relatively lower. Also, controlling for local food cost and various household characteristics, SNAP participants are more likely to use loyalty programs or other store savings, and are more likely to be aware of the dietary guidelines than nonparticipants. Our findings suggest that, although theoretically households could benefit from various consumer competencies and skills especially when the food cost is high, taking advantage of competent consumption strategies may be out of reach for many low-income consumers dealing with high food cost. Further, policies that incentivize competent or conscientious consumption among program participants might decrease food insecurity but likely at the expense of lowered nutritional quality of acquired foods, as long as less healthy food choices are also less expensive.

The relationship between neighborhood food environment and food store choice on purchasing habits among SNAP and lower income households

The objective of the study was to determine relationship between neighborhood food store availability, store choice and food purchasing habits among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participating households. The study sample consisted of SNAP households (n=1581) and low income households participating in the USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of American households with household food purchases and acquisitions data. Main Outcomes: 1) Food purchasing choices (sugar-sweetened beverages, fruits and vegetables, snacks, water, and milk) obtained from store receipts over a one-week period; 2) food shopping activities was obtained from a log book of where food was purchased over a one-week period. Key findings indicated those SNAP households within 1 mile of a supermarket had higher odds of shopping at a supermarket (2.05 OR ) compared to those without a supermarket. Shopping at a supermarket was associated with greater odds of purchasing water and low-calorie beverages (OR 1.69 ) and fruits and vegetables (OR 2.50 (95% CI 1.52, 4.11]) compared to not shopping at supermarket among SNAP households. Additionally, a fractional multinomial logit analysis (n=4,664) similarly found that close proximity to superstores or supermarkets increases the share of weekly food purchases made there, and that car access increases purchases made at restaurants while decreasing purchases made at other food shopping venues. Findings suggest that policies aiming to improve food purchasing habits among SNAP need to consider how to situate stores where SNAP households will choose to shop.

The effects of benefit timing and income fungibility on food purchasing decisions among SNAP households

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest nutritional safety net in the United States. Prior research has found that participants have higher consumption shortly after receiving their benefits, followed by lower consumption towards the end of the benefit month. This “SNAP benefit cycle” has been found to have negative effects on beneficiaries. We examine two behavioral responses of SNAP participants that may work in tandem to drive much of the cycle: short-run impatience – a higher preference to consume today; and fungibility of income – the degree of substitutability between a SNAP dollar and a cash dollar. Using data from the National Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), we find evidence of both behavioral responses. The degree of short-run impatience and fungibility of income is found to differ significantly across poverty levels and use of grocery lists to plan food purchases. Food purchase planning education could be used to counter the observed benefit cycle. Deeper analysis of the purchase data suggests that the benefit cycle is primarily associated with a decrease in the purchase of healthful and perishable foods—which could lead to lower dietary quality. We also find evidence that suggests households compensate for the effects of the SNAP benefit cycle by acquiring free food, primarily from schools. This highlights the importance of programs like the National School Lunch Program for SNAP households.