Panel Paper: Not all calories are created equal: Adult food consumption across the SNAP cycle

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sabrina K. Young1, Binh Nguyen2 and Tony LoSasso1, (1)University of Illinois, Chicago, (2)American Cancer Society

There is an accumulating literature focusing on the time preferences demonstrated by benefit recipients across the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) fund disbursement cycle. Previous studies have documented not only that food stamp recipients buy relatively more food at the beginning of their food stamp month – i.e., closer to fund disbursement date – but also that they consume relatively less calories towards the end of the benefit month (Shapiro, 2005; Wilde and Ranney, 2000). However, little work has focused on the quality and composition of caloric intake over the course of the food stamp month.

Following from Todd (2015) who finds that effects of SNAP cycle on diet quality disappear after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act using data from the NHANES 2007-08 and 2009-10 collection waves, our aim is to determine whether these findings hold 4-5 years after the stimulus went into effect, or whether the effects were short term in the years of the stimulus plan. We also further break down the micronutrients and subpopulations involved in order to better understand how and for whom diet changes across the cycle.

Our study uses detailed dietary recall data from the 2013–2014 wave of the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) to explore how individuals’ caloric intake and dietary quality change across the SNAP fund disbursement cycle. NHANES is particularly valuable in that it captures specifics of food consumption as well as measures of financial and health status.

All SNAP recipients receive their SNAP benefit in a lump sum on a monthly basis. We calculate date of last SNAP benefit receipt by combining the number of days between intake day and day receiving SNAP benefit with the number of days between intake and dietary interview. We use these dates in descriptive and multivariate regression analyses of caloric intake, dietary quality based on the Healthy Eating Index-2010, empty calorie intake, fast food consumption, and micronutrient categories.

Our research offers new evidence towards the lasting effects of an economic stimulus and the behaviors of SNAP recipients. Use of nationally representative data to capture how SNAP participants utilize their benefits is important for policy makers interested in designing food security programs that support the health of low-income individuals. For example, some researchers support the implementation of a shorter food stamp cycle as a means of minimizing the consequences of impulsivity during the cycle. In addition, the question of whether or not SNAP benefits and benefit design are sufficient to support a healthful diet is valuable in considering ongoing modifications to the program.

This project was supported by Grant Number 5R25-CA057699 from the National Cancer Institute.