We tested the hypothesis that high costs of living, such as from high housing rents, reduce the healthfulness of food acquisitions. Using the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (2012-13), we examined the relationships between cost of living and food acquisition patterns among both SNAP participants and non-participants (N = 5,414 individuals from households participating in SNAP, 3,863 individuals from non-participating households <185% of the federal poverty threshold, and 5,036 individuals from non-participating households >185% of the federal poverty threshold). Indices for cost of living included county-level Regional Price Parities for major classes of expenditures and the geographic adjustment to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is based on rent prices. We regressed the cost of living indices against measures of food acquisitions per person per day in each of several standard food categories, controlling for individual-, household-, and county-level characteristics. Using endogenous treatment effects models to potentially address unmeasured confounders influencing both the propensity to live in high-cost areas and patterns of food acquisition, we observed that higher area-level costs of living were associated with less healthy food acquisitions, including significantly fewer acquisitions of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and significantly greater acquisitions of refined grains, fats and oils, and added sugars. Overall, living in a high-cost area was associated with an 11% reduction in the Healthy Eating Index—a composite nutritional index previously associated with obesity, type II diabetes, and all-cause mortality. Additionally, we found that SNAP participation was associated with a significantly improvement in the healthfulness of food acquisitions among persons living in high-cost counties.
USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is a nationally representative survey of American households that collects comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions. Detailed information was collected about foods purchased or otherwise acquired for consumption at home and away from home, including foods acquired through food and nutrition assistance programs. In addition, the survey collects a wide array of demographic and other information about the households including information on food security status and SNAP participation. The survey includes nationally representative data from 4,826 households, including SNAP households and low-income households not participating in SNAP—both of which are oversampled in the survey, as well as higher income households.
UKCPR, in cooperation with the Economic Research Service (ERS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with the University of Illinois, launched the FoodAPS Research Initiative in 2014. The program competitively awarded grants to provide rigorous research that utilized the new USDA National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to expand our understanding of (1) household food behaviors and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program including the issues of benefit adequacy, diet quality, cost of a healthy diet, and food security, and (2) the role of the local food environment and other geographic factors on household food purchase and acquisition decisions. In addition to the FoodAPS data, geographically linked data on the local food environment and food prices compiled as part of the FoodAPS Geography Component (FoodAPS-GC) was available. Fifteen grants were awarded across the two topical domains. The final reports are available as discussion papers below, along with a summary of those reports by James Ziliak and Craig Gundersen.
Do SNAP recipients get the best prices?
This paper examines the relationship between SNAP participation and prices paid for food items. To test this relationship, we develop an expensiveness index following the method of Aguiar and Hurst (2007) and use the FoodAPS data set. Using both the ordinary least squares method and controlling for endogeneity using an instrumental variables approach, we found SNAP participation did not hold a statistically significant relationship with the prices paid for food items when we controlled for consumer behavior and food market variables. This suggests that SNAP participants are not systematically disadvantaged in their food purchases. Additional efforts to further educate SNAP participants of effective shopping and budgeting habits may be fruitful in helping households pay comparatively lower food prices.
Contextualizing family food decisions: The role of household characteristics, neighborhood deprivation, and local food environments
We employ multilevel models with neighborhood and state effects (fixed effects and random effects) to analyze the associations between household characteristics, neighborhood characteristics, regional attributes and dietary quality. We use data from the USDA National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey. Our dependent variable is a Healthy Eating Index that incorporates dollars spent and amount of food in several categories. Key explanatory variables at the household level include variables household financial condition, housing burden, home ownership, car access, household size. We include a variable for the number of large food stores in the neighborhood, a neighborhood deprivation index, and a regional food price index, along with neighborhood and state random effects. Our model shows that at the household level, financial condition and home ownership are significantly and positively related to dietary quality, while U.S. citizenship status and living in a rural area were negatively associated with dietary quality. The number of large food stores in the neighborhood is significantly and positively associated with dietary quality. Neighborhood deprivation is not significantly associated with dietary quality, nor is the regional food price index. However, the neighborhood and state random effects variables were both significant, and the neighborhood variable explains close to half of the variation in household dietary quality. Our results highlight the complexity of understanding factors at different spatial scales that influence dietary quality. Food environments are important in shaping household food decisions, as are household finances. Future research should work on untangling additional neighborhood-level factors that matter for dietary quality.
Food store choice of poor households: A discrete choice analysis of the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey
Policymakers are pursing initiatives to increase food access for low-income households. However, due in part to previous data deficiencies, there is still little evidence supporting the assumption that improved food store access will alter dietary habits, especially for the poorest of U.S. households. This article uses the new National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to estimate consumer food outlet choices as a function of outlet type and household attributes in a multinomial mixed logit. In particular, we allow for the composition of the local retail food environment to play a role in explaining household store choice decisions and food acquisition patterns. We find that (1) households are willing to pay more per week in distance traveled to shop at superstores, supermarkets, and fast food outlets than at farmers markets and smaller grocery stores, and (2) willingness to pay is heterogeneous across income group, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation, and other household and food environment characteristics. Our results imply that policymakers should consider incentivizing the building of certain outlet types over others, and that Healthy Food Financing Initiatives should be designed to fit the sociodemographic composition of each identified low-income, low-access area in question.