The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has well-established positive impacts on child health outcomes, including increased birth weight and decreased likelihood of underweight status. Studies in adult populations suggest that SNAP is associated with lower health care costs, although less is known in children.
Retrospective analysis of U.S. children (age <18 years) living in low-income households (< 200% of the federal poverty level) in the 2013-2017 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. We used multivariable regression, adjusting for sociodemographic and clinical covariates, to model the effect of continuous SNAP enrollment on health expenditures as compared to non-enrollees at 12 and 24 months.
The sample included 5,626 children, of whom 49.2% consistently received SNAP for the entire two-year survey period. Compared with SNAP non-recipients, SNAP-recipient households more often had incomes below 100% FPL (78.3% vs 37.9%), and children in SNAP-recipient households were more often publicly insured (94.9% vs 64.5%). Unadjusted expenditures were lower for children in SNAP-recipient households at 12 ($1222 vs $1603) and 24 months ($2447 vs $3009). However, when adjusting for sociodemographic and clinical differences, no statistically significant differences in health care expenditures, including emergency department, inpatient, outpatient, and prescription costs, were identified.
SNAP participant children experience heightened social hardships across multiple domains. There were no differences in short term health care costs based on SNAP enrollment when accounting for differences in sociodemographic and clinical factors. Despite demonstrated child health benefits, we found that sustained enrollment in SNAP over a two-year period did not generate significant short- term health care cost reductions. Our findings suggest that although SNAP is intended to act as a benefit towards the health and well-being of its recipients, unlike among adults, it may not reduce health care costs among children.