New research links the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) with improved health outcomes and lower health care costs. This report adds to previous work showing SNAP’s capacity to assist families in buying food, reducing poverty and helping to stabilize the economy during recessions.
For many low-income people, SNAP is the main source of nutrition assistance. It provides essential nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes: close to 70% of SNAP participants are in families with children, and more than 1/4 are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. While SNAP provides a modest benefit, it forms a critical foundation for the health and well-being of low-income Americans, liftings millions out of poverty and improving food security.
While evaluating SNAP’s impacts presents a challenge, research emerging in the last ten years suggests that SNAP may affect household well-being in ways that extend beyond its intended aim to improve food security and nutrition. The evidence suggests that SNAP is at least associated with and may promote better health and lower health care costs. And, to the extent this connection exists, it is possible that policies that limit program eligibility and cut SNAP benefits would harm health and raise health care costs.
The research reviewed here suggests that policies to improve the food security of low-income individuals and families and increase their access to SNAP might reverberate across a variety of health outcomes.