2013–2014 Funded RIDGE Center Grants

Six food assistance research proposals were awarded funding for 2013–2014 by the IRP RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research in conjunction with the RIDGE Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grants in the amount of $40,000 run from July 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014. Proposal abstracts follow the list of awards below.

Proposals funded for the period July 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014





Economic Policy Simulation: Incentivizing Healthy Eating through Changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Policies
Sanjay Basu, School of Medicine, Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University

This project will use mathematical modeling methods to understand the potential impact and cost-effectiveness of proposed strategies to improve diet-related health outcomes through changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policy. New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be used to simulate the nutritional impact of banning sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) purchases made through SNAP dollars and/or subsidizing fresh fruit and vegetable purchases made through SNAP.

The study will focus on adults aged 25 to 64, a group with well-defined food purchasing preference data, and the group at highest risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases related to the diet. This study will use nutritional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, food price data from the USDA Quarterly Food-at-home Price Database, and USDA panel data on SNAP participants' purchasing habits. These data will be incorporated into a discrete-time microsimulation model that simulates food consumption, food security, and nutritional outcomes.

The model will calculate incremental costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained, and changes in body mass index (BMI), Healthy Eating Index (HEI), USDA Food Security score, diabetes person-years and cardiovascular disease mortality. The expected outcome of the project is a quantitative assessment of the potential impact of the proposed measures on food choices, food security and diet-related health outcomes of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The National School Lunch Program: Seasonal Difference in Program Participation and Its Impacts on Food Insufficiency and Food Insecurity
Jin Huang, School of Social Work; and Ellen Barnridge, Behavioral Science and Health Education; Saint Louis University

This study will examine the impact of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) on household food insufficiency and food insecurity, using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The SIPP collects information on food insufficiency and food insecurity in a wave that covers four reference months including both summer (June – August) and non-summer months. The number of summer months in these four reference months varies by the rotation group of the SIPP sample. These unique features allow this study to address the potential selection bias in the research of food assistance programs and food insecurity by taking advantage of seasonal difference in program participation (i.e., school-aged children generally do not participate in the NSLP during the summer break). Findings of the study have important policy implications for reducing food insecurity and protecting children from food hardship.

The Summer Food Service Program and Food Insecurity in Low-Income Households with Children
Daniel Miller, School of Social Work, Boston University

Food insecurity in households with children has been a persistent problem. In 2011, 20.6% of households with children were food insecure, meaning that they experienced "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways." Nearly 6 percent experienced very low food security, meaning that food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources. Food insecurity is much more pronounced in low-income homes; over 40 percent of households with children with incomes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line were food insecure in 2012. Food insecurity is of tremendous concern, as it has been linked to a host of negative outcomes in both children and adults.

Accordingly, the USDA maintains a number of programs aimed at reducing food insecurity in households with children. The aim of this study is to develop credible estimates of the impact of one such program: the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which has received only minimal attention in previous research. Using program data from California's SFSP program and from the 2011–2012 wave of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), which contains geocoded latitude and longitude information on the residences of participants, this study will investigate two specific research questions:

  1. Is geographic accessibility to SFSP sites associated with the food insecurity of low-income households with children after control for confounding factors like participation in other federal nutrition programs?
  2. Are any impacts of geographic accessibility to SFSP sites moderated by relevant characteristics of eligible families including the age of household children and rural versus urban or suburban residence?

Given the limited state of existing research, developing estimates of the SFSP's impact is an important goal. This study hypothesizes that geographic accessibility will be associated with decreases in household food insecurity and that this relationship will be stronger among households with younger children and those in rural areas. Should these hypotheses be confirmed, results will have direct implications for policy, as they will provide clear evidence about the value of expanding and targeting the SFSP to reduce food insecurity.

A Behavioral Economics Experiment on Time Preferences and Food Choice in the School Lunchroom and SNAP
Anya Samak, Department of Consumer Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison; John List, Department of Economics, University of Chicago; Sally Sadoff, Rady School of Management, University of California-San Diego; and Charles Sprenger, Department of Economics, Stanford University

The purpose of the proposed research is to investigate the impact of behavioral interventions on child food consumption in the National School Lunch Program. While the National School Lunch Program meets the needs of many low-food-security students, over 40 percent of the school lunches are thrown away, and nutritional intake in this program could be improved.

This study will implement a field experiment to investigate the use of small monetary incentives and intrinsic motivation building exercises (via goal setting and positive feedback) on consumption of side vegetables in the school lunch. Over 3,000 children from nine different schools in the Chicago Heights, IL, school district will be randomized to one of the interventions or to a control group, and data will be collected on their consumption behavior and motivation to eat healthy. The project has broad policy implications, since findings low-cost ways to increase nutritional intake of low-income children and reduce lunch waste will improve the effectiveness of this program.

Data will be generated as part of the proposed field experiment, and will consist of consumption data and questionnaire responses on motivation and health on each day of the intervention for both the target side vegetable items and the main meal. The study will obtain data from as many as 3,000 children from nine different schools in Chicago Heights, IL. A field experiment will be conducted, in which children will be randomized at the school lunch-period level to one of the suggested interventions (incentives, conditional or unconditional, and motivation-building) or the control group.

The Dynamics of Multiple Program Use and Food Security
Christopher Swann, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina–Greensboro

Many households that participate in one food assistance program (FAP) participate in others as well. In spite of this, most previous research on the effect of FAPs on food security focuses on one program at a time. This study will explore the relationship between participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) on the one hand and food security on the other. It will also consider the role of program use in a broader context by considering the relationship between past program participation and food security.

This study seeks to answer three questions:

  1. What is the relationship between participation in multiple food assistance programs and food security?
  2. Are more months of recent participation in these programs associated with increased food security?
  3. Are recent transitions into and out of these programs associated with lower food security?

The project will use the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). It will take advantage of the SIPP's detailed monthly data on participation in SNAP, WIC, and the NSLP to construct indicators of current period receipt in each program as well as measures of past receipt and transitions. The analysis will include interactions among the possible combinations of programs in order to explore the possibility that the benefits of participating in multiple programs are greater than the sum of the individual benefits. Food security is measured by summing the number of affirmative responses to a series of questions about food hardships.

The primary analysis will consider a binary outcome of food secure or not. In the 2008 SIPP, the questions needed to construct measures of food security were asked at two points in time. This makes it possible to use panel data methods to attempt to account for non-random selection into the programs, a key concern of the existing literature. Because food security is measured as a binary variable, a fixed effects logit model will be used for the analysis. Additionally, ordered outcomes (e.g., food secure, low food security, and very low food security) and food insufficiency will be considered.


Understanding Patterns of and Factors Associated with Disconnection among SNAP Participants
Eunhee Han, School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison

In the post-welfare reform era, there has been a growing interest in understanding incidence, patterns, and conditions of what is becoming known as the "disconnected," those who appear to have inadequate income sources but do not receive public assistance. This project, which comprises three empirical studies, investigates patterns of and factors associated with disconnection among the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants and addresses a critical role of SNAP in "connecting" otherwise disconnected individuals and families. The study uses newly developed comprehensive Wisconsin administrative data over the last decade, including the recent economic recession, to consider the growing importance of SNAP in the contemporary U.S. safety net.

The first section will address the sensitivity of alternative definitions and measures of disconnection across different samples and different time frames. This study contrasts the characteristics and outcomes of three cohorts of families with families who received benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or SNAP over the last decade. The second section will examine the effect of "aging out" of TANF and Medical Assistance (MA) on being disconnected from all other means-tested benefits by comparing families with only youth (child at age 17 at the baseline) and families with a youth and younger children. The third section will investigate the dynamics in participating in SNAP and Unemployment Insurance (UI) by following working-age adults receiving SNAP and UI benefits concurrently in 2007 through 2009 to assess the extent to which these individuals continue to receive SNAP following exit from UI, or become disconnected. The study will also examine factors related to these different outcomes.

Previous Funded IRP RIDGE Proposals: 2012–2013 | 2011–2012 | 2010–2011