The purpose of this study was to examine relationships between monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit duration (i.e., the number of weeks each month a participants’ SNAP benefits provide food), and five primary outcome variables: food security, three hunger-coping behavior scales (rationing food supplies, financial strategies, making trade-offs), and physiological hunger symptoms, among a sample of families with children 0-18 years currently receiving SNAP benefits.


Baseline survey data were collected as part of a community-based intervention to alleviate child hunger. Participants included in the analytic sample were current SNAP recipients, parents (or caregivers), and 19 years of age and older (n=161). The survey assessed sociodemographics, household characteristics, food and financial assistance use, food security, three hunger-coping behavior scales, diet intake frequency, and one physiological hunger symptoms scale. The three hunger-coping scales and the physiological hunger scale were dichotomized into a “high” group (if above the sample median score) and a “low” group (if at or below the sample median score). Sociodemographic and family characteristics were included as covariates. Logistic regression models were used to assess relationships between monthly SNAP benefit duration and the five primary outcome variables in this study.


Respondents were predominately mothers/female caregivers (78%), a majority reported annual family incomes below $10,000 (58%), and 80% were experiencing “low” or “very low” food security. The sample was 43% non-Hispanic black, 30% non-Hispanic white, 10% Hispanic/Latino, 17% American Indian or other racial/ethnic groups. Monthly SNAP benefit duration (M=2.8, SD=1.0) was not likely driven by allotment amount, because households’ percent of the federal poverty line (a proxy measure for allotment amount) was not associated with the number of weeks each month that benefits lasted (p=0.36). After controlling for relevant sociodemographic variables and household characteristics, the more weeks each month participants reported their SNAP benefits lasting, the lower their odds of experiencing “low” or “very low” food security (OR=0.444, 95%CI=0.259-0.761; p


These findings suggest that monthly SNAP benefit duration may be useful as a proxy for SNAP allotment adequacy in the context of food security and hunger. Families that were not able to make monthly benefits extend as long as other families were more likely to be food insecure and experience “high” levels of physiological hunger symptoms. While associations with hunger-coping behaviors were only significant in univariate analysis, they were in the direction expected and should be further examined in future studies as these behaviors may be exacerbate, buffer, or be symptoms of the experience of food insecurity and hunger among low-income families. Policies are needed to better tailor SNAP benefit allotments to the needs of disadvantaged families, and research and programming is needed to investigate ways these families can better utilize their current allotments as a potential path to address food insecurity and hunger.

Key Take Away Points

  • Assessing monthly SNAP benefit duration (i.e., the number of weeks each month benefits last) can be a useful measure of SNAP allotment adequacy and efficient utilization within the context of family food security and hunger.
  • Decreased monthly SNAP benefit duration is related to increased likelihood of experiencing of household food insecurity and physiological hunger symptoms.
  • Programs, policies, and/or interventions seeking to assist SNAP families in extending their monthly SNAP benefits may consider targeting families with older parents, targeting frequent food pantry users, and ensuring families are utilizing (or increase eligibility for) WIC, if eligible.

Author Biography

Eric Calloway, Ph.D., R.D. is a postdoctoral fellow at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition (GSCN). Dr. Calloway research interests include food purchasing, hunger, food insecurity, and obesity prevention among low-income populations. Previous to GSCN, he worked as a Project Specialist for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion developing evidence reviews for the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, including authoring evidence reviews relating to dietary patterns, food insecurity, and cancer risk. Hollyanne Fricke, MPH, is a Project Manager at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition. Ms. Fricke has experience researching childhood obesity, hunger and food security, local food systems, local and statewide needs for increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation, as well as relationships between dietary intake, food security, and food sufficiency. At GSCN, Ms. Fricke primarily oversees a multi-year collaborative, community-based project to alleviate childhood hunger in the Omaha, Nebraska metro area. Courtney Pinard, Ph.D., MHK is a Research Scientist at the GSCN and also has an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health at in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). Dr. Pinard has led and collaborated on studies in areas including obesity prevention, local food systems and health, and food insecurity, using range of approaches such as secondary and primary data analysis, qualitative methodology, and intervention at individual, community and policy levels. Teresa Smith, Ph.D., M.S. is a postdoctoral fellow at GSCN. Dr. Smith’s research expertise lies in the environmental, social and individual determinants of dietary behaviors as they relate to obesity prevention and cancer risk. This includes, but is not limited to, cultural and familial influences on individual dietary behaviors, healthy foods access and availability, issues of food insecurity and dietary measurement and analysis. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Montana State University Food and Health Lab. Amy Yaroch, Ph.D. is the Executive Director at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and also has an appointment as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health at in the College of Public Health at UNMC. Before joining the Center six years ago, Dr. Yaroch was a Program Director and Behavioral Scientist in the Health Promotion Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute, where she oversaw research efforts in the areas of nutrition, obesity prevention, and behavioral sun safety/skin cancer prevention.


The authors would like to thank the ConAgra Foods Foundation for funding this work.