University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Food Stamps, Food Sufficiency, and Diet-Related Disease among the Elderly

In 2010, more than 2.3 million households (7.9 percent) with an elderly member were food insecure and even more reported some difficulties with obtaining adequate resources for food (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2010). It is widely acknowledged that any food insufficiency contributes to poor health and increases the likelihood of diet-related disease. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program, is the primary nutrition assistance program aimed at reducing food-related hardship. Yet, participation rates for the eligible elderly are estimated at 35 percent (Cunnyngham 2010). This low take-up rate among the elderly and its effects on food insufficiency and diet-related disease is relatively unexplored. This paper uses restricted-use Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data to examine the effect of SNAP participation on reported food insufficiency, health measures, and diet-related disease to better understand potential long-term health consequences of the elderly. To address the endogeneity of the SNAP participation decision and identify the causal effects of SNAP use on the elderly, we instrument for SNAP participation with state and county-level variables related to SNAP outreach, including radio and television advertisements, and state SNAP rules. We find that the causal effect of SNAP participation results in higher levels of preventative health care, some improved diet-related outcomes, but a higher incidence of food distress, which has potential policy implications about the generosity of SNAP benefits for the elderly.


Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Food Insecurity, Health, Health General