“The goal of this study is to provide insight into food price increases and how they are affecting the affordability of a nutritionally balanced diet,” Fang said.
Fang, who joined UF/IFAS as a faculty member this August, has just been awarded a grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research (HER) program. She will serve as principal investigator on the grant, working alongside Co-PI Michael Thomsen, professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); and Co-Investigator Qingxiao Li, assistant professor at Louisiana State University.
Her year-long project, “SNAP Purchasing Power and Food Insecurity During the Pandemic” was one of nine new research teams funded through a special solicitation on COVID-19 and Socioeconomic Recovery Efforts. This call for proposals focused on how policies and programs related to poverty reduction, such as COVID-19 relief and recovery policies, impact child health and well-being.
The investigators are based at the University of Florida, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), and Louisiana State University. Fang said that the existing working relationship between the investigators will facilitate the effective coordination and implementation of the research plan. By collaborating across multiple institutes and regions, they will be well-positioned to share knowledge gained through regional and national networks.
“Our investigator team is well positioned to disseminate findings from this study,” said Fang, who also is the current chair of the Health Economics section of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) and a member on the Communications Committee of the American Society of Health Economists (AshEcon). Co-PI Thomsen is the Director of The Center for the Study of Obesity at UAMS, and will use these interactions to gain stakeholder insights as the project unfolds and to inform important stakeholder audiences of study findings.
Purchasing power is the measure of how much can be purchased by a individual using their allotted SNAP benefits. Supply chain issues as a result of COVID-19 often led to product shortages or price inflation on common household goods. As a result, choices available to those using SNAP benefits at the store, which were already limited based on the requirements of the program, may have at times become even more limited.
By looking at how those using SNAP benefits were impacted, Fang hopes to help bridge the gap in understanding how socioeconomic disparities impact food choices, and therefore overall health.
“Food price inflation is an adverse outcome of COVID-19 that makes nutrition security more difficult for low-income families with children,” Fang said. “School closures and pandemic-related assistance programs placed additional strains on the retail food system, which may have further amplified inflationary pressure on the cost of foods needed to support a healthy diet.”