Publications

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  • The Infant Formula Market: Consequences of a Change in the WIC Contract Brand

    ERR-124, August 18, 2011

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is the major purchaser of infant formula in the United States. To reduce cost to the WIC program, each State awards a sole-source contract to a formula manufacturer to provide its product to WIC participants in the State. As part of the contract, the WIC State agency receives rebates from the manufacturers. In this study, we use 2004-09 Nielsen scanner-based retail sales data from over 7,000 stores in 30 States to examine the effect of winning a WIC sole-source contract on infant formula manufacturers' market share in supermarkets. We find that the manufacturer holding the WIC contract brand accounted for the vast majority-84 percent-of all formula sold by the top three manufacturers. The impact of a switch in the manufacturer that holds the WIC contract was considerable. The market share of the manufacturer of the new WIC contract brand increased by an average 74 percentage points after winning the contract. Most of this increase was a direct effect of WIC recipients switching to the new WIC contract brand. However, manufacturers also realized a spillover effect from winning the WIC contract whereby sales of formula purchased outside of the program also increased.

  • Where Schools Are Located Affects Meal Costs

    Amber Waves, June 16, 2011

    An ERS analysis of school meal costs from a large, nationally representative sample reveals that the location of a school can affect its meal costs. Urban locations, for example, had lower per meal costs than rural and suburban locations.

  • Food Security of SNAP Recipients Improved Following the 2009 Stimulus Package

    Amber Waves, June 13, 2011

    Food spending by low-income households increased and their food security improved as a result of the increase in SNAP benefit levels authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

  • The WIC Fruit and Vegetable Cash Voucher: Does Regional Price Variation Affect Buying Power?

    EIB-75, May 04, 2011

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental foods to low-income women, infants, and children at nutritional risk. Since October 2009, WIC packages have included a fixed-value voucher for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Although this should help increase fruit and vegetable consumption for all WIC participants, regional price variation could lead to different buying power-and nutritional benefits-across the country. Using 2004-06 Nielsen Homescan data, the authors examine the prices of fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, and canned) in 26 metropolitan market areas to determine how price variations affect the voucher's purchasing power. The authors find that the 20 most commonly purchased fruits and vegetables cost 30-70 percent more in the highest priced market areas than in the lowest, implying that WIC participants in more expensive areas might be able to purchase fewer fruits and vegetables than those living where these items are cheaper. The lowest priced market for fruits and vegetables was the Nashville, Birmingham, Memphis, and Louisville area, while the highest was San Francisco.

  • School Foodservice Costs: Location Matters

    ERR-117, May 03, 2011

    Over 42 million meals-31.2 million lunches and 11 million breakfasts-were served on a typical school day in fiscal year 2009 to children through USDA's National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. School food authorities (SFAs) operate local school feeding programs and deliver the meals to the schools. SFAs must serve appealing, healthful meals while covering food, labor, and other operating costs, a challenge that may be more difficult for some SFAs than for others due to differences in costs per meal across locations. Analysis of data on school costs per meal from a large, nationally representative sample reveals that geographic variation is important. In the 2002-03 school year, SFAs in the Southwestern United States had, on average, consistently lower foodservice costs per meal than did SFAs in other regions. Urban locations had lower costs per meal than did their rural and suburban counterparts. Wage and benefit rates, food expenditures per meal, and SFA characteristics such as the mix of breakfasts and lunches served each contributed to the differences in foodservice costs per meal across locations. The importance of these factors varied by location.

  • Food Security Improved Following the 2009 ARRA Increase in SNAP Benefits

    ERR-116, April 26, 2011

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 increased benefit levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) and expanded SNAP eligibility for jobless adults without children. One goal of the program changes was to improve the food security of low-income households. We find that food expenditures by low-income households increased by about 5.4 percent and their food insecurity declined by 2.2 percentage points from 2008 to 2009. Food security did not improve for households with incomes somewhat above the SNAP eligibility range. These findings, based on data from the nationally representative Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, suggest that the ARRA SNAP enhancements contributed substantially to improvements for low-income households.

  • Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Program Final Report: Fiscal 2010 Activities

    AP-053, January 28, 2011

    This report summarizes ERS's Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Program (FANRP) activities and accomplishments in fiscal 2010, including newly awarded projects and recent publications. FANRP supports intramural and extramural research on a wide range of policy-relevant food assistance and nutrition topics. The three perennial program themes are (1) Program Outcomes and Economic Well-Being of Participants, (2) Program Access and Economic Determinants of Participation, and (3) Program Dynamics and Efficiency. Within these broad themes, FANRP identifies priority areas for research emphasis annually.

  • WIC Participation Patterns: An Investigation of Delayed Entry & Early Exit

    ERR-109, December 28, 2010

    Despite the health benefits of participation, many eligible households do not participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). While roughly half of infants born in the United States receive WIC benefits, USDA statistics indicate that eligible pregnant women and children 1-5 years of age are far less likely to participate in WIC than eligible infants and postpartum women. This implies that a number of pregnant women delay enrollment until after having a child, and that many households leave the program when a participating child turns 1 year old. Research on the factors that influence the dynamics of WIC participation can inform outreach and targeting efforts, so that vulnerable populations receive adequate exposure to the benefits of WIC participation.

  • More Americans Relied on Food Assistance During Recession

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2010

    In 2009, 14.7 percent of U.S. households (17.4 million) were food insecure. The slight increase from 2008 (14.6 percent of all households) marks the highest level observed since food security surveys were initiated in 1995.

  • RIDGE Project Summaries, 2009: Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Program

    AP-051, November 24, 2010

    This report summarizes research findings from the Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Program (RIDGE), formerly known as the Small Grants Program. The Economic Research Service created the program in 1998 to stimulate new and innovative research on food and nutrition assistance issues and to broaden the network of social scientists that collaborate in investigating the food and nutrition challenges that exist across communities, regions, and States. The report includes summaries of the research findings of projects that were awarded 1-year grants in summer and fall 2008. The results of these research projects were presented at the RIDGE conference in October 2009. The projects include analyses of the impact of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children on food insecurity and childhood health outcomes, cognitive achievement and the School Breakfast Program, childhood obesity, food choices, and food stamp use among the elderly. Several of the projects focus on specific populations, such as immigrants, Native Americans, or people living in the rural South. Disclaimer: The studies summarized herein were conducted under research grants originating with the Economic Research Service. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ERS or USDA.

  • Household Food Security in the United States, 2009

    ERR-108, November 10, 2010

    The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure in 2009 was 14.7 percent. Though that level is essentially unchanged from 2008, the levels in both years are the highest recorded since monitoring began in 1995

  • How Food Away From Home Affects Children's Diet Quality

    ERR-104, October 04, 2010

    Compared with meals and snacks prepared at home, food prepared away from home increases caloric intake of children, especially older children. Among older children, food away from home also lowers their daily diet quality.

  • The Food Assistance National Input-Output Multiplier (FANIOM) Model and Stimulus Effects of SNAP

    ERR-103, October 01, 2010

    USDA's Economic Research Service uses the Food Assistance National Input-Output Multiplier (FANIOM) model to represent and measure linkages between USDA's domestic food assistance programs, agriculture, and the U.S. economy. This report describes the data sources and the underlying assumptions and structure of the FANIOM model and illustrates its use to estimate the multiplier effects from benefits issued under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program). During an economic downturn, an increase in SNAP benefits provides a fiscal stimulus to the economy through a multiplier process. The report also examines the different types of multipliers for different economic variables that are estimated by input-output multiplier and macroeconomic models and considers alternative estimates of the jobs impact. FANIOM's GDP multiplier of 1.79 for SNAP benefits is comparable with multipliers from some macroeconomic models.

  • Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages To Curb Obesity

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2010

    ERS researchers found that a 20-percent tax on caloric sweetened beverages could reduce consumption, calorie intake, and body weight even after accounting for increased consumption of alternative beverages.

  • Changing Participation in Food Assistance Programs Among Low-Income Children After Welfare Reform

    ERR-92, February 19, 2010

    In 1996, the safety net for poor households with children fundamentally changed when Federal legislation replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This study investigates participation in, and benefits received from, AFDC/TANF and food assistance programs, before and after the legislation, for children in low-income households (income below 300 percent of the Federal poverty line). The results show that, between 1990 and 2004, the share of children receiving food stamp benefits declined, most notably among children in the poorest households (income below 50 percent of the Federal poverty line). The share of children receiving benefits from the school meals programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) rose, mainly among children in low-income households with income above the Federal poverty line. Overall, the share of children in households that received benefits from AFDC/TANF or food assistance programs grew from 35 percent to 52 percent. However, the net result of these changes is that average total inflation-adjusted household benefits from all programs examined declined. The decline was largest among children in the poorest households.

  • Rising Infant Formula Costs to the WIC Program: Recent Trends in Rebates and Wholesale Prices

    ERR-93, February 18, 2010

    WIC provides participating infants with free infant formula. This study estimated that between 57 and 68 percent of all infant formula sold in the United States was purchased through WIC, based on 2004-06 data, and that formula costs to the WIC program have increased. Typically, WIC State agencies receive substantial rebates from manufacturers for each can of formula provided through the program. Each WIC State agency, or group of agencies, awards a contract to the manufacturer offering the lowest net wholesale price, defined as the difference between the manufacturer's wholesale price and the State agency's rebate. After adjusting for inflation, net wholesale prices increased by an average 73 percent for 26 fluid ounces of reconstituted formula between States' contracts in effect in December 2008 and the States' previous contracts. As a result of the increase in real net wholesale prices, WIC paid about $127 million more for infant formula over the course of a year.

  • Meeting Total Fat Requirements for School Lunches: Influence of School Policies and Characteristics

    ERR-87, December 02, 2009

    Concerns about child obesity have raised questions about the quality of meals served in the National School Lunch Program. Local, State, and Federal policymakers responded to these concerns beginning in the mid-1990s by instituting a range of policies and standards to improve the quality of U.S. Department of Agriculture-subsidized meals. Schools have been successful in meeting USDA nutrient standards except those for total fat and saturated fat. This report uses school-level data from the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment-III to calculate statistical differences between the fat content of NSLP lunches served by schools with different policies (e.g., menu planning) and characteristics like region and size. Positive associations are found between a meal's fat content and the presence of a la carte foods and vending machines, which are thought to indirectly affect the nutrient content of USDA-subsidized meals.

  • Income Volatility Is Rising, With Mixed Effects on Nutrition Assistance Participation

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    Income volatility among U.S. households is higher today than 40 years ago, especially among households with the lowest incomes. Income volatility has mixed effects on participation in nutrition assistance programs, with some households not applying when eligible and others leaving while still eligible.

  • Food Insecurity up in Recessionary Times

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    The recent economic downturn has brought a sharp increase in the number of Americans who report having difficulty meeting their food needs. In fact, in 2008, the number and percentage of U.S. households classified as "food insecure" reached the highest level recorded since Federal monitoring of food insecurity began in 1995.

  • Household Food Security in the United States, 2008

    ERR-83, November 16, 2009

    Eighty-five percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2008, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.6 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security-meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Prevalence rates of food insecurity and very low food security were up from 11.1 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, in 2007, and were the highest recorded since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted. The typical food-secure household spent 31 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Fifty-five percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2008 survey.