Providing low-income Americans with access to affordable, nutritious food may promote better health, based on a recent analysis that links the federal food voucher program to reduced health care costs.
Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this study explored the association between food voucher use and health care costs. Food insecurity—defined as a lack of access to adequate food—has been long linked to poorer health and increased health care costs. However, it’s unknown whether the current U.S. food voucher program saves money when it comes to participants’ health.
The current program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, was first started in the 1960s to combat hunger. SNAP currently helps 1 in 7 Americans afford groceries and food.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from national health surveys conducted between 2011 and 2013. The surveys collected information on participants’ income, health insurance and food voucher usage and were linked with annual health care expenditures from 2012–2013.
The study included nearly 4,500 U.S. adults, 42% of which participated in the SNAP program. The average age of participants was 43, and all were low-income, defined as having income that falls below 200% of the federal poverty limit.
After analysis, researchers found that participants in the SNAP program accrued $1,409 less in annual health care costs than low-income adults without food vouchers. This analysis accounted for factors like age, race, income and chronic conditions, which can influence health care spending.
Findings suggest that the SNAP program does more than help combat hunger across the country. By getting participants the food they need, SNAP likely promotes better health and helps reduce health care spending among low-income Americans. Experts hope to encourage more eligible adults to enroll in SNAP to both address food insecurity and promote better health among struggling U.S. families.