The largest food assistance program in the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), served about 40.3 million people every month of 2010. The steady increase in childhood obesity has caused some policymakers to call for changes to the SNAP program to influence healthy eating behaviors among participants. Steve Garasky co-published a study that considers the effect of SNAP participation on child weight outcomes after controlling for household financial stress, an important determinant of child overweight status that disproportionately affects low-income households.
Researchers used data from the Survey of Household Finances and Childhood Obesity, focusing on families experiencing financial stress in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. The sample included 360 children aged 2 to 18 who lived in households with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, 45.5% of whom were overweight and 70.3% of whom participated in SNAP. Multivariate regression revealed that a 10 percent increase in an eligible child's likelihood of participating in SNAP led to a 5.7 percent decrease in the likelihood they will be overweight. Researchers also found that families headed by younger persons, poorer families, and larger families are more likely to participate in SNAP, with household financial stress also predicting SNAP participation.
The robust results of this study reject the conjectures that participating in SNAP leads to greater incidence of obesity. In fact, SNAP participation seems to reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity and suggests that encouraging eligible families to participate in the program may lead to reductions in childhood obesity. While these results are encouraging, further research is needed to determine the effects of SNAP across broader populations.