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Food Policy


The WIC food package change and obesity

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal nutrition assistance program serving pregnant and lactating women as well as infants and children under the age of 5 years who live in low-income households and are at nutritional risk. WIC provides supplemental foods as well as nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, and medical and social service referrals. In 2009, the food packages WIC participants receive were changed to better align them with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This change included the addition of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; a reduction in dairy products, juice, and eggs; and a calibration of infant formula amounts to match infant’s age and needs. 

Our research is focused on evaluating the effect of the 2009 WIC food package change on growth trajectories and obesity risk among WIC-participating children in Los Angeles County. This study is carried out in collaboration with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and PHFE WIC in Los Angeles County, with funding from the American Heart Association.

Overall impact. Using WIC administrative data on children who participated in WIC in Los Angeles County continuously from birth until age 4 between 2003 and 2016, we found that the WIC food package change was associated with healthier growth trajectories from 0-4 years and a 10-12% reduction in obesity risk at age 4. 

By gender and initial weight status. Further, our group found that the WIC food package change benefited boys in terms of reduced obesity risk regardless of initial weight status, but the effect was more limited among girls, only benefiting those with initial average weight.

Breastfeeding, WIC food package change, and obesity. Breastfeeding, particularly exclusive breastfeeding, increased after the WIC food package change among WIC participants in Los Angeles County. Our group has found that this increase in exclusive breastfeeding partly explains the association between the WIC food package change and a reduced obesity risk. These findings were presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) Epi Lifestyle conference in Houston, TX, on March 2019.

Recognition and Awards

photo  from the National WIC Association meeting

National WIC Association