Funded on September 1, 2022

Large differences in infant health outcomes exist across race and ethnic groups. In 2019, more than 14 percent of infants born to Black mothers weighed fewer than 2,500 grams, a rate more than twice that of infants born to white mothers. Low birth weight is highly predictive of future adverse health conditions, such as higher rates of infant mortality and morbidity, as well as adult health and economic outcomes.

Poor nutrition during pregnancy increases the likelihood of low birthweight and worsened infant health; nutritional assistance programs could therefore improve maternal nutrition and improve birth outcomes. Existing research shows the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increases households’ food consumption, suggesting the potential to improve infant health. The program’s introduction between 1961 and 1974 led to increases in birth weight, with larger effects among Black mothers that translated into long-term economic and health benefits. Though the creation of the program improved health and reduced racial health inequities among cohorts born in the 1960s and 1970s, less is known about how much the current program similarly improves health outcomes and could improve longer-term racial disparities.

This project will evaluate how increased nutritional assistance through SNAP affects racial inequalities in infant health, providing causal evidence of the relationship between SNAP and infant health under recent expansions of the SNAP benefit amount that vary by income level and type, timing, and duration relative to date of conception.