2019 RIDGE Grantees

The 2019 grantees presented their research in the October 2020 RIDGE Conference (available on vimeo).

2019 Grantees

Breakfast in the classroom, body mass index, and academic outcomes.

Investigators: Michael Thomsen, Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr, Anthony Goudie

Institution: University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

Breakfast consumption is associated with improved diet and may be protective against excess weight gain. Alternative breakfast delivery schedules that provide “breakfast after the bell” (BAB) could increase school breakfast participation. This project consisted of two studies focused on the impact of BAB on Arkansas elementary schoolchildren. The first study used administrative data to examine the effect of BAB on standardized test scores in mathematics and English among third graders using a “synthetic” control model. The second study used data from a legislatively mandated BMI screening program to assess the impact of BAB on weight outcomes by the second grade. There was limited evidence that BAB delivery impacts academic achievement in Arkansas with estimates of limited practical significance, but improvements in both breakfast participation and in student behavior. The second study showed no meaningful effects of BAB on weight outcomes overall and across subsamples suggest no evidence that BAB is detrimental in terms of excess weight gain. BAB can fit into the rhythm of the school day without adversely impacting academic achievement. By increasing participation in school meal programs, BAB may lead to improved diets and increased food security among at-risk children thereby contributing to better long-term health and quality of life.

Project Contact:
Michael R. Thomsen 
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
217 Agriculture Building
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Email: mthomsen@uark.edu

Giving Kids a Boost: The Positive Relationship between Frequency of SNAP Participation and Child’s Preventative Health Care Utilization in the First Year

Investigators: Irma Arteaga, Leslie Hodges, Colleen Heflin

Institution: University of Missouri

This study examines the relationship between SNAP participation and well visits and immunizations in the first year of life using administrative data for more than 50,000 children-mother dyads based on SNAP benefit receipts linked to Medicaid claims data from Missouri’s Department of Social Services for the period January 2006 to July 2014. The study finds that, compared to always receiving SNAP, leaving SNAP or receiving SNAP unstably which may be a consequence of administrative churn, reduces the likelihood that an infant receives all recommended well-child visits in the first year. These discrepancies are larger for children living in urban areas, and children whose mothers are African American and Hispanic. Models that used patterns of SNAP participation suggest that one obstacle for infant care among low-income households with diagnosed maternal depression may be the stability of SNAP receipt. The study revealed that stable SNAP participation primarily influences vaccination rates through well visits, which is when most infants receive their immunizations. Given major public health concerns about recent declines in well-visits and immunizations, it is possible that procedures like waiver extensions and remote interviews for application and recertification, could help address the instability in SNAP participation among new mothers and, by extension, could reduce the public health burden associated with unstable participation.

Project Contact:
Irma Arteaga
University of Missouri-Columbia
241 Middlebush Hall
Columbia MO 65211
Email: arteagai@missouri.edu  

SNAP and Work-Related Policies: An In-Depth Analysis of Low-Wage Worker Perspectives and Behaviors

Investigators: Caitlin Caspi, Molly De Marco, Lisa Harnack, Rebekah Pratt, Samuel Myers Jr.

Institution: University of Minnesota

A variety of work related-policies have the potential to affect food assistance benefits for millions of low-wage workers. In Minneapolis, the City Council passed a Minimum Wage Ordinance in 2017 that incrementally increases the local minimum wage of to $15 an hour. In Raleigh, state policies enacted in 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly prohibited local municipalities from increasing their minimum wage and ended waivers for ABAWD work requirements for SNAP recipients. The aims of the study were to: (1) understand perspectives about current and future eligibility for SNAP benefits in two policy contexts, and (2) explore how these perspectives affect decisions regarding worker employment, financial planning and spending decisions. The study was embedded in an ongoing, federally funded natural experiment conducted in Minneapolis, MN and Raleigh, NC. A subsample of 112 participants in both cities completed semi-structured interviews. The findings were around four themes. Participants experienced frequent changes to SNAP benefits, which were detrimental to financial stability. SNAP is one component of a web of necessary supports for participants. A perceived unsupportive policy environment in Raleigh contributed to expressions of hopelessness. The positive effects of a minimum wage increase were largely aspirational. Policies such as SNAP work requirements and minimum wage policies are experienced through a lens of prevailing poverty.

Project Contact:
Caitlin Caspi
University of Connecticut
Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Department of Allied Health Sciences   
1 Constitution Plaza
Hartford, CT 06103
Email: caitlin.caspi@uconn.edu

The Effect of School Meals on the Well-Being of Multigenerational Households Receiving SNAP Benefits

Investigator: Agustina Laurito

Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago

This study investigates the effect of school meals on the food security of multigenerational households and the food acquisitions and health of individual members of those households, including seniors. In doing so, this study relies on restricted data from the National Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), a nationally representative survey that tracks food acquisitions and purchases for all households and individual household members, including children, for seven days. The empirical strategy exploits the categorical eligibility of children in SNAP households for up to two school meals a day, and plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of FoodAPS data collection relative to when school is in session. Results show that access to school meals lowers 30-day adult food insecurity among multigenerational households by 16 percentage points. School meals have positive effects on household’s healthy eating index calculated using food at home acquisitions. Correlational analyses show that each additional school meal per child correlates with a decline in food insecurity of roughly 5 percentage points. This study also finds improvements in self-reported health among adults aged 29 to 59 years old and seniors. The study shows spillover effects of school meals on adult members of households, including seniors, and highlights the importance of family complexity in assessing social policies.

The New School Food Standards and Nutrition of School Children: Direct and Indirect Effect Analysis

Investigators: Pourya Valizadeh, Shu Wen Ng

Healthy dietary quality in childhood is essential for the proper physical and cognitive development of children and chronic disease prevention. This study examined how the recent changes in school nutritional standards affected dietary quality of school children from different food acquisition sources (i.e., school vs. away-from-school food sources). The study estimated the overall, direct, and indirect effects of the changes on dietary quality of school-age children. To account for endogeneity of school food participation, the study used two-day dietary intake data from four cycles (2009-2016) of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and exploited within-child variation to control for fixed unobserved and observed confounders associated with school food consumption and dietary outcomes. This study documented a significant increase in the overall dietary quality of the average student from the pre-to the post-HHFKA implementation period. The direct effect analysis indicated a significant increase in the diet quality of children’s intake of school food, particularly among older and higher-income children. The indirect effect analysis found a negative impact on the away-from-school dietary quality. There was a modest reduction in daily calorie intake in the post-HHFKA implementation period, primarily among older and higher-income children. Despite its unintended negative indirect effects, the HHFKA led children to consume more-nutritious, less-energy-dense diets.


Valizadeh P, Ng SW. The new school food standards and nutrition of school children: direct and indirect effect analysis. Economics & Human Biology 2020; 39:100918. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2020.100918

Project Contact:
Pourya Valizadeh
123 West Franklin Street
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27516-3997
Email: pouryav@email.unc.edu

RIDGE Program Spotlight: Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act improves school-aged children dietary quality

December 2020: The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 led to significant improvements in school food and ultimately better overall quality of children’s diets, based on recent findings from Dr. Pourya Valizadeh at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The increase in the diet quality of school foods more than compensated for the shift towards lower-quality diets at home.

Trends in Child Food Consumption Patterns by Experiences of Food Insecurity Among Children Who Participate in WIC Only and in WIC + SNAP in Los Angeles County, California, 2008-2017

Investigators: M. Pia Chaparro, Miguel A. Lopez, Shannon E. Whaley

Institution: Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine

Food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), provide a safety net to combat food insecurity in the US. The goal of this study was to investigate 2008-2017 trends in the link between food insecurity and food consumption among young children participating in WIC only and in WIC + SNAP in Los Angeles County, California.  This study used data from the 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017 Los Angeles County WIC Surveys. For all WIC participants, fruit and vegetable consumption increased and milk consumption decreased over time. Frequency of fast-food consumption was high in all survey years (35-45% reporting fast-food consumption one or more times per week). No associations were observed between food insecurity and child food consumption patterns for all samples. Overall, food insecurity experiences were minimally or not associated with child food consumption across time. While fruit, vegetable, and milk consumption seemed adequate for this age group, fast food consumption was very common among WIC and WIC + SNAP participating children. Regardless of food security status, nutrition education provided to WIC families should continue to emphasize the importance of eating home cooked meals to reduce the high frequency of fast-food consumption.

Project Contact:
M. Pia Chaparro
Tulane University
1440 Canal St, Suite 2200-16
Mail Code #8319
New Orleans, LA 70112
Email: pchaparro@tulane.edu

Understanding Barriers to SNAP among College Students

Investigators: Maggie Dickinson and Nicholas Freudenberg

Institution: Guttman Community College – CUNY

SNAP participation rates among eligible college students appear to be much lower than average participation in the general population. This study explores the paradox of high rates of food hardship among college students alongside low rates of participation in SNAP, the nation’s largest and most effective food assistance program. This mixed methods study drew on survey data and interviews with students at the City University of New York (CUNY) to explore the barriers to SNAP enrollment. The study conducted a survey that measured food insecurity, SNAP eligibility and enrollment to a representative sample of students (N=504) at CUNY. Complicated SNAP eligibility rules deter enrollment for low income college students and are a major barrier due to both direct exclusion from SNAP and indirect effects. These rules increase confusion over eligibility among college students and increase stigma associated with the program. The widespread practice of skipping meals is compounded by SNAP policies that prohibit the purchase of prepared foods, the inability of students to use SNAP to purchase food on campus, and the time constraints that inhibit students’ abilities to cook and prepare food at home. Removing SNAP eligibility requirements for full time college students at the federal level would reduce stigma and expand access to SNAP for low-income college students.

Project Contact:
Maggie Dickinson
Guttman Community College – CUNY
50 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Email: Maggie.dickinson@guttman.cuny.edu

Working for Your Bread: The Labor Supply Effects of SNAP

Investigators: Jason Cook, Marianne Bitler, Jonathan Rothbaum

Institution: University of Pittsburgh

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the only universal component of the US safety net. This study assesses how the SNAP program rules influence labor supply decisions. It draws on new administrative records containing every SNAP recipient for two states: Colorado from 2012-2013 and Oregon from 2008-2016 where gross and net income can be observed. The study tests for intensive margin labor supply distortions by exploring whether there is an excess density (mass) of SNAP cases at the zero net income kink in program benefits using well-known bunching estimators utilized in other contexts. The research design approximates the shape of the counterfactual bunching region by interpolating the shape of the surrounding areas with a seventh-degree polynomial. It tests whether the point where benefits are initially taxed (i.e., where net income equals zero) creates labor supply distortions along the intensive margin. Across both states, this study finds little evidence of labor supply distortions where benefits are initially taxed. The one exception is that the researchers observe an excess mass for single-unit cases with self-employment income in Colorado. However, the magnitude of the bunching is small in relation to total state caseloads. Labor supply distortions from the increase in the benefit tax rate are not a first-order concern.


Bitler M, Cook J, Rothbaum J. Working for your bread: the labor supply effects of SNAP. AEA Papers and Proceedings 2021 May; 111: 496-500. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/pandp.20211094

Project Contact:
Jason Cook
University of Utah
GARFF 3412, University of Utah
201 Presidents’ Cir
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Email: Jason.Cook@eccles.utah.edu

RIDGE Program Spotlight: Research with administrative data in Colorado and Oregon shows little evidence that SNAP distorts work decisions

April 2021: For many years, policy-makers have wondered if safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) might motivate low-income Americans to work less in the labor market. In new research, Dr. Jason Cook, a 2019 RIDGE grantee, and colleagues found little evidence that SNAP participants reduced their work effort in this way.