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Health Disparities

HD: Food Security (2011)


Rank MR, Hirschl TA. Likelihood of using food stamps during the adulthood years. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005 May-Jun; 37 (3): 137-146.

PubMed ID: 15904577
Study Design:
Trend Study
D - Click here for explanation of classification scheme.
Quality Rating:
Positive POSITIVE: See Quality Criteria Checklist below.
Research Purpose:

The purpose of the review was to estimate the likelihood that Americans will use food assistance (such as food stamps) at some time during their adulthood (age 20-65). 

Inclusion Criteria:

30 waves (1968-1977) of the nationally representative Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data was used for this study.

Exclusion Criteria:

Not applicable

Description of Study Protocol:

Analysis of accumulated data of the Panel Study for Income Dynamics

Data Collection Summary:

The objective of this review was to construct a series of life tables (based on data from 1968-1997) that provide the cumulative percentages of the non-immigrant American population using the Food Stamp Program between the ages of 20 and 65 years. 

The following was also analyzed:

  • The total and consecutive years that individuals use the Food Stamp Program across the life course
  • The effect of race, education and gender was also analyzed
  • The bivariate and multivariate effects of the three variables (identified previously) on the cumulative likelihood of using food stamps.
Description of Actual Data Sample:

The Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) was used for the data sample. It is a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of households and family interviewed since 1968. It was specifically designed to follow income dynamics over time and it tracks yearly household participation in an array of welfare programs including the Food Stamp Program.

The PSID began with approximately 4,800 initial households in 1968 (roughly 18,000 individuals had information collected).

The PSID is designed so that in any given year, the sample is representative of the entire non-immigrant US population. The basic methodology of the PSID has stayed consistent over time; telephone interviews have been conducted (through 1997), although from 1968-1972, the PSID interview was conducted face-to-face. 

To derive national estimates from the PSID, the sample must be weighted using PSID-generated weights. The PSID weights are adjusted annually to account for bias introduced by sample attrition. 

The analytical strategy was to use the household and demographic information and individuals throughout the 30-year period to construct a series of life tables that estimate the risk of food stamp use across the life coursespecifically the period of working-age adulthood was examined. In addition to the standard life table, a multi-variate life table was also estimated. To construct the table, separate models were estimated for ages 20 to 65. The independent variables include race (black/white), education (less than 12/12 years or more), and gender, whereas the dependent variable was the first-time use of food stamps. 

Summary of Results:

The following results were obtained the analysis:

  • At age 20, 9.6% of the adult population has received food stamps (similar to what the cross-sectional rate of food stamp use for 20-year olds would be 1968 and 1997). By the time adults reach the age of 35, 34.2% have received food stamps and by age 65, 50.8% of Americans have participated in the food stamp program.
  • Likelihood of experiencing various total number of years of food stamp receipt: >50% of adults receive food stamps for at least one year, 37.6% have received food stamps for more than two years, 32.6% in three or more years, 29.1% in four or more years, and 23.8% in five or more years. This indicates that the typical pattern of food stamp use across the life course is that once an individual has begun the program, he or she is quite likely to do so again in the future.
  • Most people who are at poverty levels or who use welfare programs do so for short periods of time, yet they also are quite likely to experience poverty again.
  • Both race and education exert a strong influence on the life course probabilities of using food stamps. For African Americans nearly 25% will use food stamps by the age of 20, roughly 50% by age 25, 66% by age 35 and nearly 85.5% by age 65. Adults with less than 12 years of education between the ages of 20 and 65, 64.3% will use food stamps vs. 38.3% of adults with more than 12 years of education.
  • Women were found to be more likely to use food stamps than men. By age 65, 51.8% of females will use foods stamps compared to 45.6% of men.
Author Conclusion:
Conclusions from the study indicate:
  • Food stamp use is very common. 51% of Americans aged two to 65 will participate in the Food Stamp Program over their lifespan and they are likely to do so at several points
  • Use of food stamps across the course of the life span occur over relatively short periods of time. Whereas 50% of adults will sue food stamps only one in 10 will do so in five consecutive years.
  • Race and education have a profound impact on use of food stamps. Being black and having less than 12 years of education substantially raise the odds of using food stamps.
  • At least 42% of Americans will experience a year in which they encounter food insecurity.

The authors conclude that being able to empirically establishing these patterns is vital in demonstrating the relevance of federal food assistance programs and the nutrition needs of Americans throughout their adult lives.

Funding Source:
Government: USDA
University/Hospital: Northwestern University / University of Chicago
Reviewer Comments:
Quality Criteria Checklist: Review Articles
Relevance Questions
  1. Will the answer if true, have a direct bearing on the health of patients? ???
  2. Is the outcome or topic something that patients/clients/population groups would care about? Yes
  3. Is the problem addressed in the review one that is relevant to dietetics practice? Yes
  4. Will the information, if true, require a change in practice? Yes
Validity Questions
  1. Was the question for the review clearly focused and appropriate? Yes
  2. Was the search strategy used to locate relevant studies comprehensive? Were the databases searched and the search termsused described? Yes
  3. Were explicit methods used to select studies to include in the review? Were inclusion/exclusion criteria specified andappropriate? Wereselectionmethods unbiased? Yes
  4. Was there an appraisal of the quality and validity of studies included in the review? Were appraisal methodsspecified,appropriate, andreproducible? Yes
  5. Were specific treatments/interventions/exposures described? Were treatments similar enough to be combined? Yes
  6. Was the outcome of interest clearly indicated? Were other potential harms and benefits considered? ???
  7. Were processes for data abstraction, synthesis, and analysis described? Were they applied consistently acrossstudies and groups? Was thereappropriate use of qualitative and/or quantitative synthesis? Was variation in findings among studies analyzed? Were heterogeneity issued considered? If data from studies were aggregated for meta-analysis, was the procedure described? N/A
  8. Are the results clearly presented in narrative and/or quantitative terms? If summary statistics are used, are levels ofsignificance and/or confidence intervals included? Yes
  9. Are conclusions supported by results with biases and limitations taken into consideration? Are limitations ofthe review identified anddiscussed? Yes
  10. Was bias due to the review's funding or sponsorship unlikely? Yes