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J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005 May-Jun;37(3):137-46.

Likelihood of using food stamps during the adulthood years.

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  • 1George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.



The Food Stamp Program represents the cornerstone of the federal nutrition assistance safety net. This article estimates the likelihood that Americans will use such food assistance at some point during their adulthood. The probability and duration of food stamp use are estimated for the population as a whole and for differences in race, education, and gender. Based on these food stamp percentages, a lower boundary is also estimated with regard to the life course risk of food insecurity. DESIGN, SETTING, AND ANALYSIS: Thirty waves (1968 to 1997) of the nationally representative Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data set were merged for analysis. Food stamp use is defined as an individual being in a household that has used the Food Stamp Program at some point during the year. Approximately 260 000 person-years of information on food stamp use are analyzed using both life table techniques and logit modeling.


Between the ages of 20 and 65, slightly over half (50.8%) of all Americans will, at some point, receive food stamps. Use of the program takes place over relatively short periods of time but typically recurs at several points in the life course. Race and education exert a profound influence on the odds of program participation. Based on the life course patterns of food stamp use, it is estimated that at least 42% of the American population will experience food insecurity at some point between the ages of 20 and 65.


The overall life course patterns reveal a substantial need and use of food stamps within the US population. These results also suggest a significant risk of food insecurity across the life course. The implications for nutritionists are discussed.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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