BEYOND THE NUMBERS
SNAP (formerly food stamps) is associated with better health and lower health care costs, according to a growing body of evidence that we summarize in a new paper. As Congress and the White House prepare to reauthorize SNAP in this year’s farm bill, it’s a useful time to assess the program’s powerful benefits.
Food insecurity — i.e., lack of access to sufficient food at any point during the year — is linked to a number of negative health outcomes, such as increased risk of chronic health conditions, and higher health care costs.
By providing income to enable households to better afford food, which reduces the stress of food insecurity and frees up money to spend on their health, SNAP may offer participants a path to better health. Assessing SNAP’s impact on outcomes such as health can be hard, as people who choose to participate in SNAP are generally more disadvantaged than non-participants. But studies that try to control for these differences, which we highlight in our paper, provide evidence of SNAP’s benefits, including that:
- Adults who participate in SNAP are likelier to assess their own health as excellent or very good, as are parents who assess their child’s health.
- Children with access to SNAP in their early years grow up less likely to be obese or to have conditions such as heart disease.
- SNAP can help participants better afford medicine and manage their health: elderly SNAP participants are less likely to cut back on their medications due to cost than SNAP-eligible non-participants. (See figure.)
By making negative health outcomes less likely, SNAP may contribute to lower health care costs, research also suggests. Studies of elderly participants in Maryland found that SNAP was linked with reduced risk of nursing home and hospital entry. And low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about $1,400, or nearly 25 percent, less for medical care in a year than similar non-participants, an analysis found after controlling for factors expected to affect spending on medical care.