Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Effect of Food Price on Food Insecurity and Diet Quality: Exploring Potential Moderating Roles of Consumer Competency

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 2:10 PM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yunhee Chang, University of Mississippi, Jinhee Kim, University of Maryland and Swarn Chatterjee, University of Georgia
Higher food price may not only aggravates household food insecurity but also hurt diet quality. This study takes advantage of detailed household-level records of food acquisition as well as geographic indicators from the USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) and examines whether consumer competency mitigates the adverse effects of high food price. We also examine whether lack of consumer competency or effectiveness among participants in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) partly explains the program’s inconsistent success in improving nutrition and health, and whether strengthening consumer competency would improve SNAP effects in high food cost areas. Findings offer direct implications for policies that aim to improve food access and health through behavior change.

Consumer competency measures include consumers’ money management skills, nutrition knowledge, and general consumer effectiveness in shopping behavior. Food acquisition and purchase records from household food books evaluated against dietary guidelines are used to construct diet quality measures. Local cost of Thrifty Food Plan and prices of aggregate food groups as well as other information about local food environment are obtained from the geographic component of the data. Regression models include a series of interaction terms to test how consumer competency moderates the effect of local price. Program participation is instrumented by state policy variables to avoid endogeneity bias. Fixed effect terms are included to account for unobserved regional variations in consumption environment and lifestyle.

This study speaks to the adequacy of SNAP benefits and the possibility of indexing benefits based on cost of living, and it also has direct implications on the current policy focus that targets better understanding of program participants’ food buying behavior and knowledge.  Findings shed light on whether the current program lacks a system that equips or incentivizes participants to become competent consumers who make efficient and healthful use of program benefits when faced with adverse market conditions. With the debate around nutrition education versus incentives or choice-based interventions, improved understanding of the program participants' knowledge and behaviors enables better-informed policy choice.