Research News

How Food Stamps Impact Long-Term Health

Early exposure to food stamps improves adult health


IPR economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach has conducted extensive research on the evolution and impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—better known as the food stamp program. The program did not begin everywhere at once but expanded county by county from 1961–75. In their working paper, Schanzenbach and her colleagues study adults born between 1956–81 and explore the relationship between living in a county that had implemented the program, and the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, also known as metabolic syndrome diseases, later in life.

This figure illustrates one of the researchers’ core findings: Being in a food-stamp county made the biggest long-term difference for babies in utero and children up to age five. For those adults in this group who grew up in disadvantaged families (as measured by their parents’ education level), their risk of developing metabolic syndrome was lower. The results point toward the importance of intervening during early life because, as Schanzenbach and her colleagues find in their working paper, the health impacts of the food stamp program on adult health are minimal if the child is first exposed after age 5. For more information, read the IPR working paper, “Long-Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net” (WP-12-17).

Click on the image below to see a large version of the infographic.

Diane