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Food and Nutrition Assistance Research Database

The RIDGE Program summarizes research findings of projects that were awarded 1-year grants through its partner institutions. All projects were conducted under research grants from ERS, and the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ERS or USDA. For more information about publications or other project outputs for a specific RIDGE study, contact the investigator or research center that awarded the grant. For a customized list of RIDGE projects and summaries, search by keyword(s), project, research center, investigator, or year:

Project:
Food Stamp Program Participation and Obesity: Estimates From the NLSY79

Year: 2001

Research Center: Joint Center for Poverty Research, University of Chicago and Northwestern University

Investigator: Gibson, Diane

Institution: Baruch College

Project Contact:
Diane Gibson, Assistant Professor
Baruch College
CUNY School of Public Affairs
17 Lexington Avenue, Box D-418
New York, NY 10010
Phone: 212-802-5970
Fax: 212-802-5968
Diane_Gibson@baruch.cuny.edu

Summary:

This study examined the relationship between Food Stamp Program (FSP) participation and adult obesity. Based on past empirical research and the human capital model of the demand for health, the relationship between FSP participation and obesity is indeterminate. This study used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to examine the relationship between FSP participation and obesity. A benefit of using the NLSY79 is that it is possible to include detailed controls for current income, FSP participation, and long-term eligibility for and participation in the FSP, as well as individual fixed effects.

Current and long-term FSP participation are positively and significantly related to obesity for low-income women in models with individual fixed effects. The estimates suggest that food stamp benefits do not have the same relationship to obesity as do cash income or other benefits provided by the Government. FSP participation is associated with approximately a 9.2- percent increase in the probability of obesity, and 5 years of FSP participation in the previous 5 years is associated with approximately a 19-percent increase in the probability of obesity for low-income women. By contrast, the relationship between FSP participation and high body mass index (BMI), although statistically significant, is considerably less. Current FSP participation is associated with an almost 1-percent increase in BMI, and 5 years of FSP participation in the previous 5 years is associated with an almost 3-percent increase in BMI for low-income women. Current and long-term FSP participation is not significantly related to obesity for low-income married men in models with individual fixed effects. However, long-term FSP participation is positively and significantly related to BMI. Five years of FSP participation in the previous 5 years is associated with approximately a 3-percent increase in BMI for low-income married men.

The models did not control explicitly for food insecurity, and this exclusion may confound the relationship between FSP participation and obesity. Assuming the relationship between FSP participation and obesity is estimated correctly, recommendations for policy changes to reduce obesity will depend on the mechanism for the relationship between FSP participation and obesity. The analyses in this research are based on the human capital model of obesity, where FSP participation is related to obesity as a result of the resources and education provided by the FSP. Therefore, the model implies that education and changes in restrictions on the use of FSP benefits, the mode of delivery, and the amount of FSP benefits are possible policy tools to reduce the prevalence of obesity among FSP participants.

The large increase in the predicted probability of obesity for low-income women who participate in the FSP suggests the usefulness of nutrition education or other education programs that aim to reduce the obesity of FSP participants, regardless of whether obesity is caused by or simply correlated with FSP participation. The author also notes that the research findings suggest that more attention should be paid to the food choices made by FSP participants and the ways in which the program influences those food choices. Other possible policies aimed at reducing obesity could change the mode of delivery or the amount of FSP benefits. However, it is important to note that obesity is not a problem for all FSP participants. A reduction in benefits may increase other problems for the participant or members of his or her family.

A person’s obesity status is influenced by current and past choices concerning food consumption and health behaviors. In order to determine the most effective policies for reducing obesity among food stamp recipients, more research is needed that will examine the relationship between FSP participation and these choices.

Last updated: Monday, August 18, 2014

For more information contact: Alex Majchrowicz

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