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New book discusses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Published December 15, 2015
portion of book cover

URBANA, Ill. – A new book looks at aspects of how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) affects health and well-being. SNAP Matters includes a chapter on obesity by University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen, who is also one of the book’s editors.

The central goal of SNAP is to reduce food insecurity in the United States. Although SNAP, (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is one of the country’s most successful safety net programs since its beginnings about 50 years ago, it has its critics.

“Most recently, SNAP has come under attack for being perceived as a contributor to obesity among low-income Americans,” says Gundersen. “There are some groups who would even like to restrict what can and cannot be purchased with SNAP.”

In Gundersen’s chapter on “SNAP and Obesity,” he says there is very little evidence that SNAP is associated with higher probabilities of obesity among participants in comparison to eligible nonparticipants.

Quite the contrary.

“There is actually clear evidence that SNAP improves the well-being of recipients over numerous dimensions and that imposing restrictions would lead to declines in participation and increases in food insecurity. In addition, restrictions would lead to increases in food prices due to all the extra labelling needed and don’t help hungry people,” Gundersen says.

If restrictions on purchases are imposed, the number of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from would increase, and the rate of obesity would not decline.

“Although there are a few outliers, most competently done studies have shown that SNAP recipients are no more likely to be obese than eligible nonrecipients,” Gundersen says. “Some studies have even shown that SNAP participants are less likely to be obese.” 

The book has seven other chapters: Why Are So Many Americans on Food Stamps? The Role of the Economy, Policy, and Demographics; The Effect of SNAP on Poverty; The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Food Insecurity; SNAP and Food Consumption; The Health and Nutrition Effects of SNAP: Selection into the Program and a Review of the Literature on Its Effects; SNAP and the School Meal Programs; and Multiple Program Participation and the SNAP Program.

SNAP Matters: How Food Stamps Affect Health and Well-Being was edited by Judith Bartfeld and Timothy M. Smeeding, University of Wisconsin; Craig Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor of Agricultural Strategy in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois; and James P. Ziliak, University of Kentucky. It is published by Stanford University Press.

Financial support was provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the Economic Research Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Ford Foundation; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.