Getting it Right, or at Least Better: Improving Identification of Food Stamp Participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

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The utility of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for studying the use and consequences of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is diminished by substantial net under-reporting of both SNAP participation and benefits among survey respondents. This paper compares NHANES-based national SNAP estimates with administrative totals and investigates the pattern of under- and over-reporting of SNAP receipt by NHANES respondents in Texas. Shifting from focus on individual “authorization” to identification of participation using a more broad-based “household” measure reduces net under-reporting in aggregate. The Texas data confirm this gain, but the reduction in actual under-reporting is in part offset by increased over-reporting. Comparison of NHANES results to other national surveys is complicated by differences in the surveys’ definitions of SNAP participation and, especially, by differences between the populations within which SNAP receipt occurs and the populations actually sampled. Strategies for further research and survey development are suggested.

Key words: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, NHANES, SNAP, Under-Reporting


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