THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Americans who use or are eligible for food stamps have a higher risk of premature death than people who aren't eligible for them, a new study finds.
"Our results suggest that the millions of low-income Americans who rely on SNAP for food assistance require even greater support to improve their health than they currently receive," said study senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian. He is dean of Tufts University's School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston.
Mozaffarian's team looked at data from 2000 to 2011. There was information on nearly 500,000 adults aged 25 and older who received benefits from the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP benefits are commonly called food stamps.
The investigators found that people who used food stamps had a three times higher risk of death from diabetes. The program participants also faced a two times higher risk of death from heart disease or any cause than those who didn't get food stamps.
People who were eligible for food stamps but didn't participate in the program had about a two times higher risk of death from diabetes. They also had a 1.5 times higher risk of death from heart disease or any cause than those who were not eligible for food stamps, according to the study.
The differences in total and in heart disease deaths were similar for blacks and whites, but occurred less in Hispanics, the findings showed. However, diabetes-related deaths were higher across all races and ethnicities, the study authors said.
The findings highlight the need to learn more about poor health among low-income Americans and find ways to improve it, the researchers said.
"It is important to note that our study does not examine cause-and-effect and whether or not SNAP participation itself increases the risk of mortality," study corresponding author Zach Conrad said in a university news release. He is a former postdoctoral fellow in nutritional epidemiology at Tufts.
"Rather, our investigation demonstrates that Americans on SNAP are dying at higher rates, emphasizing the need for strong efforts to improve their health," he said.
Conrad said it's possible that if people weren't getting food stamps, they might have even worse health.
One is six Americans used food stamps in 2015, the researchers said.
For his part, Mozaffarian believes that getting greater health support for people on food stamps should be a priority for policymakers.
The study was published Jan. 19 in the American Journal of Public Health.
The World Hunger Education Service has more about hunger in America.