2014–2015 Funded RIDGE Center Grants

Four food assistance research proposals were awarded funding for 2014–2015 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, 2014, through December 31, 2015. Proposal abstracts follow the list of awards below.

Proposals funded for the period July 1, 2014, through December 31, 2015


Tatiana Andreyeva
Tatiana Andreyeva

The Effects of the WIC Food Package Revisions on the Healthfulness of Food Purchases among WIC Households: Analysis of Grocery Store Scanner Data
Principal Investigator: Tatiana Andreyeva, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University

For many American families, poor diet quality is a significant barrier to improving health and prolonging a disease-free lifespan. This is especially true for low-income families that have the most significant economic, time, and access constraints to eating nutritious meals. Federal food assistance programs support one in four Americans in achieving adequate nutrition. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is particularly important for improving food choices and diets in vulnerable populations due to its targeted impact and broad reach.

WIC provides a supplemental set of nutrient-dense foods, nutrition education, and medical referrals to half of the infants born in the United States, a quarter of children under age of 5, and many pregnant and postpartum women. WIC food packages were revised in 2007 to increase consumption of nutritious foods while reducing intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugar. It is currently unknown how the WIC food package revisions influenced the overall healthfulness of food purchases among WIC-participating households.

Proposal objectives are as follows:

  1. To evaluate the effect of the WIC food package revisions on the composition of grocery purchases among WIC participating households.
  2. To compare the overall healthfulness of food purchases among WIC households before and after the WIC revisions and identify spillover effects into non-WIC foods.
  3. To assess differences in food purchases of low-income households depending on their participation in SNAP and WIC.

For a panel of 2,149 WIC-participating households, we examine all of their grocery purchases at a New England grocery store chain over 2009 to 2010 (n = 199,652 purchase transactions). Purchased groceries are classified into 44 categories, with the healthfulness of foods evaluated based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The proportion of grocery spending by food category is compared before (January to September 2009) and after (January to September 2010) the WIC food package revisions using general linear regression models and controlling for program participation (e.g., SNAP, cash assistance), price variation, shopping patterns (e.g., frequency of visits, number of transactions), and store level socio-demographic covariates. The analysis distinguishes between types of funds used to pay for each food purchase (WIC/SNAP benefits, own funds).

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald
Rachel Connelly
Rachel Connelly

The Impact of Food Stamps on Age at Onset of Adverse Health Conditions
Principal Investigator: John Fitzgerald, Department of Economics, Bowdoin College
Co-PI: Rachel Connelly, Department of Economics, Bowdoin College

Food stamps and other forms of public assistance provide increased resources for families that may improve children's health outcomes. This project focuses on the role of food stamps and other public assistance in delaying or preventing the onset of diet-linked adverse health conditions, namely diabetes, high BMI, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Earlier onset of adverse health conditions is expected to have larger negative consequences on life outcomes like earnings and educational attainment. This study estimates how family income and food stamp and public assistance recipiency during childhood affect the length of time before the onset of these chronic health conditions.

Estimation of the causal relation between duration of food stamp recipiency and later health outcomes requires a methodology to deal with the endogeneity due to unmeasured family background variables that affect both family food stamp usage and later child health. This project proposes a hazard model with endogenous covariates that uses a log hazard to model the time from birth to onset of certain adverse health conditions. The choice of receiving food stamps and other safety net programs will be jointly modeled and linked to the health onset hazard by correlation in unobserved latent variables. The model will be estimated using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) for a sample of children for whom we observe family background as a child and later health outcomes up through young adulthood.

Anna Johnson
Anna Johnson

Patterns of Food Assistance Program Participation across Early Childhood and Associations with Child Food Insecurity and Kindergarten Well-Being
Principal Investigator: Anna Johnson, Department of Psychology, Georgetown University

The first five years of a child's life are a critical period for brain development, and deprivation during these early years has long-lasting consequences. Food insecurity in early childhood is thus especially concerning. Unfortunately, 20 percent of U.S. households with children experience food insecurity; nearly half had children who experienced food insecurity directly. Children who experience food insecurity face an increased risk of health problems and cognitive and social deficits, all of which present obstacles to later school and life success. Addressing health and economic disparities later in life is much more difficult and costly than preventing or reducing such disparities in childhood. Thus it is critical to understand which government programs—and combinations of programs—might help thwart food insecurity in early childhood and set children on trajectories for better later health and life achievement.

Of the more than a dozen government food assistance programs, three are especially relevant for families with young children: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Together, these three food assistance programs serve an estimated 32 million children per year. However, no studies have explored patterns and predictors of participation in the three FA programs that are most relevant for children from birth to age 5, how different patterns of participation might associate with food insecurity, and whether multiple program participation is linked with indicators of kindergarten wellbeing, either directly or indirectly through food insecurity. For the reasons listed above, these are important questions with short- and long-term developmental and policy implications.

The proposed study will be the first to paint a nationally-representative portrait of multiple food assistance program participation across early childhood, food insecurity across early childhood, and how they relate to each other and to children's kindergarten wellbeing. Specifically, I will address three research questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of families who combine SNAP, WIC, and CACFP across their children's early years (birth-age 5) and what are the patterns of those combinations?
  2. Is multiple program participation associated with reduced food insecurity across early childhood?
  3. Is multiple program participation across early childhood associated with enhanced kindergarten physical (weight status), cognitive (reading; math), and social (attention; behavior) well-being, directly or indirectly via reduced food insecurity?

Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), which collected information on multiple food assistance program participation, food insecurity, and children's physical, cognitive, and social outcomes, I will estimate a series of multinomial and OLS regression models first describing and predicting patterns of food assistance program use, then testing for associations between multiple program participation and food insecurity and kindergarten wellbeing. Latent class analysis and multiple treatment group propensity score matching and weighting will also be used to identify underlying prevalent patterns of food assistance use over time, and to check the robustness of multivariate regression models, respectively.

Results of the proposed study will inform ongoing discussions about how best to use and target limited government resources for food assistance programming, and may shed light on previously unconsidered positive benefits of program participation for the country's most vulnerable families.

Melissa Wilmarth
Melissa Wilmarth
Martin Seay
Martin Seay
Robert Nielsen
Robert Nielsen

The Dynamics of Food and Housing Assistance Programs Before and After the Great Recession
Principal Investigator: Melissa Wilmarth, Department of Consumer Sciences, University of Alabama Co-PI: Martin Seay, School of Family Studies & Human Services, Kansas State University Co-PI: Robert Nielsen, Department of Financial Planning, Housing & Consumer Economics, University of Georgia

Nutrition, housing, and poverty programs in the United States tend to treat each unique category of hardship as its own distinct form of economic strain. However, an emerging literature suggests that the various programs may complement one another depending on the intensity and duration of the hardship(s). The possibility that cross-program benefits may exist is the foundation for this research. Specifically, we will identify the links among U.S. food and housing assistance programs using panel data that illustrate both the intensity and duration of households’ exposure to hardship(s), while accounting for the receipt of assistance related to those hardships.

Two particular categories of hardship and related assistance—food and shelter—are the focus of our investigation. Importantly, each will be investigated with the goal of identifying the interactions among food assistance and housing assistance programs, particularly among households that experience food insecurity and/or housing cost burden. Three research questions—each of which will exploit nine years of data—will inform our work:

  1. What are the characteristics of households that experience housing cost burden?
    • Do these characteristics vary by the receipt of food and/or housing assistance?
    • Do these characteristics inform the duration of the hardship (e.g., continuous support, transition into or out of assistance)?
    • Do these characteristics inform the severity of the hardship (i.e., moderate versus severe housing cost burden)?
  2. Among households that are, and are not, housing cost burdened, what types of food and housing assistance are received (i.e., SNAP, WIC, meals at school, energy assistance, Section 8, public housing, other food or housing assistance)?
    • Do these vary by the intensity of housing cost burden (moderate versus severe)?
  3. What are the correlates of the receipt of food assistance among households that are, and are not, housing cost burdened?
    • Do the correlates of receipt vary by intensity of housing cost burden?
    • Do these vary over time?

Data from the 2004 and 2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) provide detailed monthly data on food and housing assistance program participation from 2004 to 2012, a period that offers insights into pre- and post-recession variation in both the severity and duration of hardships, receipt of public and informal assistance, and policy variations that occurred over those nine years.

Research questions one and two will be addressed through a series of bivariate statistics that will identify patterns of food and/or housing assistance, including the source and amount of that assistance. Additional bivariate analyses will identify variations in the intensity (i.e., moderate or severe housing cost burden; low or very low food security) and duration (i.e., the number of months) of the hardship. Research question three will be investigated through a series of multivariate analyses to identify the correlates of receipt of assistance for those experiencing a housing burden costs in 2004 to 2012; offering insight into how hardship and the receipt of food and housing assistance may have changed over those years. SIPP data are ideal for this research as the data offer insights into race, ethnicity, and age subgroups in individual households over time that simply aren't possible with smaller longitudinal samples (such as PSID) or even larger cross-sectional samples (such as CPS), even when pooled.

Previous Funded IRP RIDGE Proposals: 2013–2014 | 2012–2013 | 2011–2012 | 2010–2011