2011–2012 IRP RIDGE Center Annual Research Themes

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2011–2012 Research Theme

Food Assistance Programs, Food Choices, and Obesity and Other Health Outcomes

2011–2012 Call for Proposals | Proposal and Award Guidelines

Participation in federal food assistance programs has increased dramatically over the past several years, with these programs playing a growing role in enabling households to meet their food needs. Food assistance via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves at least one child in four and one adult in seven nationwide; participation in free and reduced price school meals has likewise increased since the start of the recent recession; and efforts to increase the availability of summer food programs are gaining in visibility. Furthermore, increasing attention is being paid to the kinds of food provided through food assistance programs, including school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The high and growing participation rates in food assistance programs, coupled with the growing attention to specific foods offered and strategies to affect food choices, mean that these programs have increasing potential to influence dietary patterns – and thus to affect obesity and other health outcomes, either positively or negatively. A variety of research has explored the potential impacts of food assistance specifically on obesity, with inconsistent findings that seem to vary across programs and that also remain heavily influenced by limitations of research designs. The mechanisms underlying the potential associations between food assistance and obesity are theorized but not well-established. Looking beyond obesity, one finds very limited research linking food assistance programs to broader health-related outcomes. Nonetheless, the growing interest in promoting more nutritious food choices among food assistance participants reflects an assumption that food assistance programs can be used to explicitly target health outcomes.

The 2011–2012 RIDGE research priority was: Understanding the interplay among food assistance programs, food choices, eating patterns, and obesity and other health outcomes as being of critical importance for the optimal design of such programs. Potential topics for sponsored research include any that are broadly related to helping clarify how food assistance programs influence food choices, obesity, and other health outcomes. This includes, but is not limited to, the following research areas:

  • the ways in which such impacts may differ among demographic groups;
  • how impacts may be linked to aspects of program design; and
  • the ways interactions between programs and the broader context in which they operate influence outcomes of interest.

Calls for proposals are released in February each year for awards to begin July 1. View PDF versions of the 2011–2012 Call for Proposals and the Proposal and Award Guidelines.

Previous Themes: 2011–2012 | 2010–2011