LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2019) — Is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) improving health outcomes for low-income Americans? Emerging research aims to answer that very question.
A new study, published in Health Affairs by researchers from the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics and Syracuse University's Maxwell School, reveals that participation in SNAP reduces the risk of premature death among U.S. adults.
SNAP is the nation's largest anti-hunger program — helping nearly 20 million households put food on the table. While previous studies have linked SNAP's effectiveness at reducing food insecurity, little is known about the program's ability to improve participants' overall health.
Researchers evaluated SNAP data from the National Health Interview Survey, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the years 1997-2009, and linked it to the National Death Index from 1999-2011. Findings reveal that participation in SNAP lead to an overall mortality reduction of 1-2 percentage points.
Additionally, the authors — James P. Ziliak, endowed chair of microeconomics at UK, Samuel Ingram, a doctoral student at UK, and Colleen Heflin, professor of public administration and internal affairs at Syracuse — found that the food assistance program also reduces the likelihood of death from alcoholic liver disease, poisoning and suicide. This study is the first to demonstrate a specific link between participation in SNAP and a reduction of .8% in risk of death from these causes among adults ages 40-64.
As policy makers weigh the costs and benefits of nutrition programs, Ziliak is urging them to take the results of this latest study into consideration. “Our results further demonstrate the benefits of SNAP for the American people, and policies to restrict access to the program could have serious health consequences from higher food insecurity to premature death,” he explained.
“A major challenge in demonstrating the positive health impact of SNAP is that the same criteria that make a household eligible for participation — such as low income — are associated with poor health outcomes on average,” Heflin added. “By looking at the incidence of premature death, we are able to help fill an important gap in the scientific literature to help policymakers weigh the benefits and costs of food nutrition programs on population health and associated impacts.”
"The Effect of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on Mortality" is published in the November 2019 issue of Health Affairs. The study was conducted in the Kentucky Research Data Center (KRDC).
Established by a 2016 grant from the National Science Foundation, KRDC is a collaboration between UK and the U.S. Census Bureau. KRDC enables researchers to have an immense economic, social and health-related impact by understanding factors that contribute to health and economic gaps in the Commonwealth and beyond.
For more information about KRDC, and the latest research being conducted at the center, you can visit the website.
KRDC is part of the nationwide system of Federal Statistical Research Data Centers whose mission is to expand the data infrastructure available to qualified scholars and students with approved projects by providing access to restricted individual and firm-level data from participating federal statistical agencies. KRDC is supported by the Office of Vice President for Research, the Colleges of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Arts and Sciences, Business and Economics, Medicine, Pharmacy, Public Health, and Social Work, along with a regional consortium of leading research institutions, including Indiana University, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati and University of Louisville. The lab is located on the University of Kentucky campus in the Gatton College of Business and Economics Building.
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