SNAP, Young Children’s Health, and Family Food Security and Healthcare Access

Introduction: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest nutrition assistance program in the U.S. This study’s objective was to examine the associations between SNAP participation and young children’s health and development, caregiver health, and family economic hardships.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from 2006 to 2016 were analyzed in 2017 for families with children aged <3 years in 5 cities. Generalized estimating equations and logistic regression were used to evaluate the associations of SNAP participation with child and caregiver health outcomes and food insecurity, forgone health care, and health cost sacrifices. Nonparticipants that were likely to be eligible for SNAP were compared with SNAP participants and analyses adjusted for covariates including Consumer Price Index for food to control for site-specific food prices.

Results: The adjusted odds of fair or poor child health status (AOR=0.92, 95% CI=0.86, 0.98), developmental risk (AOR=0.82, 95% CI=0.69, 0.96), underweight, and obesity in children were lower among SNAP participants than among nonparticipants. In addition, food insecurity in households and among children, and health cost sacrifices were lower among SNAP participants than among nonparticipants.

Conclusions: Participation in SNAP is associated with reduced household and child food insecurity, lower odds of poor health and growth and developmental risk among infants and toddlers, and reduced hardships because of healthcare costs for their families. Improved SNAP participation and increased SNAP benefits that match the regional cost of food may be effective preventive health strategies for promoting the well-being of families with young children.