Saturday, May 28, 2016

Impoverished children with access to food stamps become healthier and wealthier adults

May 27, 2016

Authors: Douglas Almond (Columbia University and NBER), Hilary W. Hoynes (University of California, Berkeley and NBER), Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach (Northwestern University)

Adults who participated in the Food Stamp Program, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008, as children are healthier and better off financially than poverty-stricken families who did not have access to the program, according to findings in joint work with Douglas Almond and Diane Schanzenbach (this paper and a companion paper Almond, et al. 2011). Children with access were more likely as adults to graduate from high school, earn more, and rely less on government welfare programs as adults than impoverished children who did not have access to SNAP. Women, in particular, are substantially more likely to self-report they are in good health and are more economically self-sufficient in adulthood. We find no additional long-term health impacts for children from more exposure to the program during middle childhood, but individuals with access to food stamps before age 5 had measurably better health outcomes in adulthood with significant impacts for those in early childhood.

In 2012, SNAP lifted 4.9 million children out of poverty, and also lifted more than 2.1 million children out of deep poverty, which is defined as an income level less than half of the poverty line (Sherman and Trisi 2015). In addition, two-thirds of total SNAP benefits go to families with children. A growing body of evidence suggests it is particularly important to protect children from deprivation. Access to food and other health benefits early on in a child’s life has been shown to impact their outcomes as adults, especially in terms of earnings, health, and mortality. Evidence from diverse settings, ranging from children exposed to war, disease, or famine, points to deprivation in childhood as being a cause of adults’ chronic health conditions


SNAP’s positive impacts start before birth

In the short run, we find that SNAP improves infant health (Almond et al., 2011), especially in the case of expectant mothers accessing the program in their third trimester. Access to food stamps improves her baby’s birth weight, which could have long-term positive effects on the babies’ health as a child and adult. The improvements are largest in more vulnerable populations, such as babies born in high-poverty counties, and those babies with the lowest birth weights.


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