SNAP Participation and Emergency Department Use

Pediatrics. 2023 Feb 1;151(2):e2022058247. doi: 10.1542/peds.2022-058247.


Objectives: To examine whether Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation is associated with emergency department use among low-income children and whether any such association is mediated by household food hardship and child health status and/or moderated by special health care needs (SHCN) status. We hypothesized SNAP to be associated with reduced likelihoods of emergency department use, with greater effect sizes for children with SHCN and mediation by food hardship and health status.

Methods: In this secondary analysis, we estimated a bivariate probit model (with state-level SNAP administrative policies as instruments) within a structural equation modeling framework using pooled cross-sectional samples of children in low-income households from the 2016 to 2019 iterations of the National Survey of Children's Health (n = 24 990).

Results: Among children with and without SHCN, respectively, SNAP was associated with: 22.0 percentage points (pp) (95% confidence interval [CI] 12.2-31.8pp) and 17.1pp (95% CI 7.2-27.0pp) reductions in the likelihood of household food hardship exposure (4.8pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 2.3-7.4pp), 9.7pp (95% CI 3.9-15.5pp) and 7.9pp (95% CI 2.2-13.6) increases in the likelihood of excellent health status (1.9pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 0.7-3.0pp), and 7.7pp (95% CI 2.9-12.5pp) and 4.3pp (95% CI 1.0-7.6pp) reductions in the likelihood of emergency department use (3.4pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 1.8-5.1pp).

Conclusions: We found SNAP participation was associated with lower likelihoods of emergency department use, that better food hardship and health statuses mediated this association, and that effect sizes were larger among children with SHCN. Food hardship relief may improve outcomes for vulnerable children and the health systems serving them.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Characteristics
  • Food Assistance*
  • Food Supply
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Poverty