Food Stamps=Bigger Babies

On September 11, 2008, in maternal and child health, nutrition, by Karen Grepin

In this new NBER working paper, the effect of the US government’s federal food stamps program (FSP rollout in the 1960s and 1970s was investigated. It is well known that the US has much higher rates of low-birth weight children and child mortality than other high-income countries, all of which spend considerably less on health care per person. The reasons for these differences are not well understood, but generally believed to be due to the lack of health insurance or income inequality.

This paper is important due to the fact that it provides convincing evidence that it probably has a lot to due with the share of the population living in relatively poor economic conditions. Using variation in the dates of the rollout of the FSP programs at the state/county levels, they find that the food stamps did improve birth outcomes, most notably by significantly reducing the share of children at low-birth weight (roughly 7-10% improvements). This paper is not able to show if the programs improved nutrition or reduced household expenditures or anything else, but does show that this program did have important downstream effects.

I think it is really interesting that even in a rich country setting, improvements in wealth or nutrition or both, can still have significant impacts on health outcomes. If this is true in the US circa 1970, than I believe it is certainly true in the developing world context as well. It is not all about accessible health care, it still has a lot to do with basic nutrition.

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