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Supermarket Purchases Over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefit Month: A Comparison Between Participants and Nonparticipants

      Introduction

      The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides financial assistance for food and beverage purchases to approximately 1 in 7 Americans, with benefits distributed once monthly. Most Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are spent early in the month, leading to decreased caloric intake later in the month. The effects of this early benefit depletion on the types of foods and beverages purchased over the course of the month is unclear.

      Methods

      Using individually tracked sales data from 950 participants enrolled in 2 supermarket-based RCTs in Maine (October 2015–April 2016 and October 2016–June 2017), purchases of selected food categories by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants (n=248) versus nonparticipants (n=702) in the first 2 weeks compared with the last 2 weeks of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit month were examined. Analyses were completed in 2019.

      Results

      For Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants, adjusted mean food spending decreased 37% from the first 2 weeks to the last 2 weeks of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit month (p<0.0001) compared with a 3% decrease (p=0.02) for nonparticipants. The decline in spending by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants occurred in all examined categories: vegetables (−25%), fruits (−27%), sugar-sweetened beverages (−30%), red meat (−37%), convenience foods (−40%), and poultry (−48%). Difference-in-difference estimators comparing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants with nonparticipants were statistically significant (p<0.05) for all examined categories.

      Conclusions

      In the second half of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit month, individuals reduced purchases of all examined categories. More research is needed to understand the impact of these fluctuations in spending patterns on the dietary quality of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants.
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      1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Supplemental nutrition assistance program participation and costs. www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/pd/SNAPsummary.pdf. Updated April 5, 2019. Accessed April 25, 2019.

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