Nutritional quality of retail food purchases is not associated with participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for nutrition-oriented households.PLoS One. 2020; 15(12):e0240263.Plos
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides millions of low-income Americans food benefits and other forms of nutrition assistance. Evidence indicates that SNAP reduces food insecurity. However, there is a concern that the food benefit may increase the demand for less healthy foods more than healthier foods, thereby reducing the overall nutritional quality of the participant's food basket. This paper aims to examine the association of SNAP participation with the nutritional quality of food-at-home purchases of low-income households and to investigate the potential heterogeneity among consumers with different levels of nutrition attitude. This analysis used food purchase data from the USDA National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Our study sample included 2,218 low-income households, of which 1,184 are SNAP participants, and 1,034 are income-eligible nonparticipants. Multivariate regressions were performed to explore the SNAP-nutritional quality association. A household's nutrition attitude was measured using its response to a question on whether the household searched for nutrition information online in the last 2 months. Households that affirmed they had an online nutrition search were treated as nutrition-oriented households (21.2% of the low-income sample), and households that did not were considered less nutrition-oriented households (78.8%). For robustness, we also created an alternative nutrition attitude measure based on reported use of the nutrition facts label. We found that among less nutrition-oriented households, SNAP participants had a statistically significant 0.097 points (p = 0.018) lower Guiding Stars rating than low-income nonparticipants. However, there was no significant SNAP-nutritional quality association among nutrition-oriented households. In conclusion, SNAP participation was associated with lower nutritional quality of food purchases among less nutrition-oriented households, but not among nutrition-oriented households. The results suggest that the intended nutritional benefits of restrictions on purchases of healthy foods may not reach the subgroup of nutrition-oriented SNAP participants.