Food stamps, food insecurity, and health outcomes among elderly Americans

TitleFood stamps, food insecurity, and health outcomes among elderly Americans
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsPak, T-Y, Kim, GS
JournalPreventive Medicine
ISSN Number0091-7435
Keywordsdepression, Food assistance, Mental Health, Self-esteem, Stigma, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

This study examined associations between very low food security and health outcomes in older adults, and tested whether participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) mitigates adverse health consequences associated with very low food security. Data were drawn from the 1998–2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (N = 148,138 from 27,281 persons). A longitudinal analysis of the relationship between very low food security and health condition depending on SNAP participation was conducted using the individual fixed effects regression. Respondents' health status was assessed by self-rated health, grip strength, and depressive symptoms. The correlations between very low food security and physical health outcomes were negatively significant prior to SNAP enrollment (p < 0.05) but became insignificant upon participation, indicating that SNAP may have prevented poor physical health resulting from very low food security. However, results concerning mental health showed that SNAP enrollment does not modify the association between very low food security and depression; very low food security remained a significant risk factor of depressive symptoms conditional on SNAP enrollment (p < 0.001). Further analyses showed that SNAP participation is correlated with negative self-attitudes (p < 0.05), and that the correlation between SNAP and depression becomes insignificant after controlling for self-attitudes. These results suggest that a stigma effect arising from welfare use may have reduced self-esteem and resulted in depressive moods. Future research needs to delve into whether reforms to the food assistance program aimed at reducing stigma can help alleviate emotional distress among welfare recipients.

Citation KeyPAK2020105871