Using natural experiments to identify the effects of SNAP on child and adult health

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) can have important impacts that extend beyond its intended aims to improve food security and nutrition, particularly for health and health care use. This project examined the impact of SNAP receipt and benefit level on the health of adults and children using two natural experiments to address selection bias: 1) state policy variation in SNAP in an instrumental variables (IV) analysis; and, 2) the temporary expansion of SNAP benefits and eligibility provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in a difference-in-difference (DD) approach. We used restricted data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2008 to 2014, restricting our sample to persons in SNAP-eligible and low-income SNAP-ineligible households. The IV analysis suggests that SNAP receipt is associated with improved health and reductions in foregone medical care due to affordability among adults and children. However, we find little evidence that ARRA’s temporary benefit increase led to any changes in health or health care use. Whereas SNAP receipt may improve health and health care use for populations close to the eligibility threshold (and thus induced to participate by some policies), the relatively small increase and reduction in SNAP benefits may not have been substantial enough to change health outcomes.



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Daniel Miller Taryn Morrissey


Using natural experiments to identify the effects of SNAP on child and adult health