The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) can have important impacts that extend beyond its intended aims to improve food security and nutrition, particularly for health and health care use. This project examined the impact of SNAP receipt and benefit level on the health of adults and children using two natural experiments to address selection bias: 1) state policy variation in SNAP in an instrumental variables (IV) analysis; and, 2) the temporary expansion of SNAP benefits and eligibility provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in a difference-in-difference (DD) approach. We used restricted data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2008 to 2014, restricting our sample to persons in SNAP-eligible and low-income SNAP-ineligible households. The IV analysis suggests that SNAP receipt is associated with improved health and reductions in foregone medical care due to affordability among adults and children. However, we find little evidence that ARRA’s temporary benefit increase led to any changes in health or health care use. Whereas SNAP receipt may improve health and health care use for populations close to the eligibility threshold (and thus induced to participate by some policies), the relatively small increase and reduction in SNAP benefits may not have been substantial enough to change health outcomes.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2017-04

Notes/Citation Information

This project was supported with a grant from the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research through funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service and the Food and Nutrition Service, Agreement Number 58-5000-3-0066. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s) and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policies of the sponsoring agencies. The findings and conclusions in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Research Data Center, the National Center for Health Statistics, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.