Methods: We use the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which contains rich measures of socioeconomic and health outcomes. Following a similar approach to Pilkauskas et al., (2012), responses to eleven economic wellbeing questions asked in the 1-, 3-, 5-, and 9-year waves are used to create our different measures economic hardship experience. The eleven questions are used to construct the following five hardship classifications: food, bill, utility, medical care, and housing hardship for the 1-, 3-, 5-, and 9-year waves. A cumulative hardship index is also constructed by summing the responses to the eleven questions described earlier. Participations in SNAP are measured as binary variables and the amounts of benefits are measured as continuous variables. To address endogeneity concerns, we use an instrumental variables method for panel-data to control for unobservable state-benefit heterogeneity, which may influence the program participation.
Results: We first show that chronic stress from economic hardship experience is associated with higher BMI and greater risk of obesity among mothers. However, this positive association is reduced as the number of hardship experiences increases for mothers who also experience food hardship. Furthermore, we find the opposite relationship between economic hardship experience and child obesity. Specifically, hardships are associated with reductions in the likelihood of a child being classified as obese. However, this relationship is reduced as the number of economic hardship experiences increases for those children belonging to households that also experience food hardship. Finally, participating in public assistance programs does not significantly affect the hardship/obesity relationship. However, after controlling for potential endogeneity, SNAP participation may have beneficial effects on mothers’ weight outcomes.