BEYOND THE NUMBERS
SNAP is one of our most effective tools to reduce hunger and food insecurity, which occurs when a lack of resources causes household members to struggle to afford enough food for an active, healthy life at least once in a year. But it does so much more. Our recent report summarizes 15 years of research linking SNAP with improved health outcomes and lower health care costs.
SNAP can help families afford a healthier diet, reduce the stress of not being able to afford adequate food, and free up income to spend on medications and other basic needs. Pinpointing SNAP’s impact on health is challenging, in part because people who choose to participate in the program are generally more disadvantaged than those who are eligible but don’t participate. But rigorous research that controls for these differences has linked SNAP with improved health, both when participants are receiving benefits and later in life. Here are some key findings from the research:
- Food insecurity increases the risk of adverse health outcomes. Food insecurity complicates people’s ability to manage illness, and is linked to higher health care costs. People in food-insecure households spend roughly 45 percent more on medical care than people in similar, but food-secure, households. Extensive research shows a strong correlation between food insecurity and chronic health conditions among various age groups: children, young and working-age adults, and older adults.
- SNAP improves food security, offers benefits that enable families to purchase healthier diets, and frees up resources that can be used for health-promoting activities and needed medical care. SNAP reduces the overall prevalence of food insecurity by as much as 30 percent, and is even more effective among children and those with “very low food security,” that is, when one or more household members have to skip meals or otherwise eat less during the year due to lack of money. A rigorous study found that food insecurity among children fell by roughly a third after their families received SNAP benefits for six months.
- SNAP is associated with improved current and long-term health. SNAP participants are more likely to report excellent or very good health than low-income non-participants. Early access to SNAP among pregnant mothers and in early childhood improved birth outcomes and long-term health as adults. Elderly SNAP participants are less likely than similar non-participants to forgo their full prescribed dosage of medicine due to cost. SNAP may also help low-income older adults live independently in their communities and avoid hospitalization.
- SNAP is linked with better access to preventive health care and reduced health care costs. Infants and children in families participating in SNAP are more likely to see a doctor for periodic check-ups. Low-income adults participating in SNAP incur nearly 25 percent less in medical care costs than low-income non-participants.