Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Agricultural Economics

First Advisor

Dr. Alison F. Davis


This collection of essays examines the impact of two antecedents of household food consumption: SNAP and habit formation to nutrients. Household food choice invariably plays a substantial role in health outcomes such as obesity. Low-income households may be especially vulnerable to obesity as they face a more restricted set of food choices due to income constraints and may have less information on healthy eating relative to high-income households. This dissertation unravels this dynamic by providing causal estimates of the effect of two major determinants of food choice.

Chapter 2 and chapter 3 test the impact of SNAP participation on consumption of foods that are likely to cause obesity. With some exceptions, SNAP restricts benefits to be spent only on unprepared grocery food items from participating retailers. Chapter 2 considers the broad category of Food Away From Home (FAFH) which is shown to be less healthy than meals prepared at home and shows that SNAP significantly reduces FAFH expenditure of participants. However, the magnitude of this decrease is not large enough to have a tangible impact on obesity. Chapter 3 considers household expenditure on carbonated soda, which is the key source of sugar intake among low-income households. Not only is carbonated soda SNAP-eligible, it is cheaper when purchased with SNAP benefits relative to cash because benefits are exempt from all sales taxes. Results show that SNAP participation leads to a significant rise in carbonated soda sales in low-income counties. I also find that the SNAP tax exemption does not lead to higher consumption among participants relative to non-participants.

Chapter 4 tests habit formation to dietary fat using purchases of ground meat and milk products. Products in both categories have salient fat content information on the packaging. Products within each category differ only by fat content and are usually identical otherwise. Differences in habit formation are, therefore, caused by different levels of fat content. Results show a positive association between habit formation and fat content for all products in the ground meat category and all products, except fat-free milk, in the milk category. However, this relationship is modest leading to the conclusion that policy interventions, such as a saturated fat tax, might be effective in discouraging consumption of high fat products.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)