Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and maternal depressive symptoms: Moderation by program perception

Soc Sci Med. 2018 Jan;197:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.039. Epub 2017 Nov 22.


Rationale: Previous studies have observed an association between participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and depression, which is contrary to SNAP's potential to alleviate food insecurity and financial strain.

Objective: This study investigated the impact of change in SNAP participation status on maternal depression, and whether perceptions of government assistance moderate this association.

Methods: Data were from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). Logistic regression models with individual-specific fixed-effects, were fit to SNAP-eligible mothers who changed SNAP participation and depression status (N = 256) during waves 2 to 4. Perceptions of government assistance were defined as feelings of humiliation or loss of freedom and tested for interactions with SNAP participation.

Results: Perceptions of government assistance moderated the association between SNAP participation and depression (p-interaction = 0.0208). Those with positive perceptions of welfare had 0.27 (95% CI = 0.08 to 0.89) times lower odds of depression when enrolled vs. not enrolled in SNAP. Among those with negative perceptions of welfare, SNAP enrollment was not associated with depression (OR = 1.13; 95% CI = 0.85 to 1.51).

Conclusion: Evidence suggests that SNAP mental health benefits may be context specific. SNAP's capacity to improve mental health may depend on individual perceptions of government assistance. More research is needed to determine whether interventions aimed at mitigating negative perceptions of programs like SNAP could ameliorate poor mental health among program participants.

Keywords: Depression; Food aid; Food insecurity; Health policy; Maternal health; Perceptions; SNAP; Social assistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Food Assistance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • Perception
  • Social Welfare / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult