Our food policy research investigates the impacts of U.S. domestic food assistance on participant outcomes and retail food environments. We have focused primarily on two federal nutrition programs: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. WIC provides nutrition education and specific nutritious foods to qualifying, low-income pregnant and lactating women as well as infants and children under the age of 5 years. SNAP also provides food assistance through an electronic benefit card that can be used to purchase foods at local grocers, but it is not limited to specific foods, and the program supports low-income individuals and families regardless of gender or age. Our research studies the real-life implications of these programs, particularly the recent changes in the WIC food package contents and the association between SNAP and nutritional outcomes. We offer policy recommendations and evidence of the effective implementation of such recommendations in recent history.
Our research also investigates state and local initiatives directed at improving nutrition and food security. This ranges from a New Orleans food financing scheme to support grocers in underserved areas to a set of recommended actions to improve farm-to-table programming in Louisiana.
WIC food package change and obesity: In 2009, the government made significant changes to the WIC Program, updating the food packages to better align them with current dietary guidelines. These studies assess the impact of the WIC food package change on obesity, growth trajectories, and the variance of these factors among different populations. Our findings highlight the improved childhood obesity outcomes that followed the 2009 WIC package change.
WIC food package change and the retail food environment: This body of research includes studies that assessed how the update to the WIC food package impacted food store sales and stocking. Some of this research focused on our local food environment work in New Orleans, while other work was conducted as a multi-site study across multiple urban centers in the United States. In carrying out this research, Tulane University researchers worked in collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, San Diego State University, and other institutions across the country.
Historical WIC Research: The package change is only one of the various factors that determine WIC’s impact on a child’s health. Household participation in the program, emphasis on formula-feeding, and certain parental characteristics also historically played a role in the ultimate success of the WIC program on improving child health measures. Our research examines these factors and offers analysis about their significance.
Our research focuses on participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and associated outcomes, whether that's obesity rates among children and adults in Los Angeles, or nutrient intakes among children nationwide. Our work investigates potential policy modifications to SNAP to promote healthier food habits and reduce the stress associated with program participation. We have also investigated the longstanding cook-from-scratch expectation for SNAP recipients, and how out of line this is with current rates of female labor force participation. Food store access is also an important correlate of consumption for SNAP recipients, which we have documented in a national study.
Our research presents evidence-based policy suggestions, some of which have been implemented throughout Louisiana, both locally and at the state level. From a sugary drink tax to recommendations regarding healthy food retail, our research has influenced policy in ways that have changed the state of public health in Louisiana. We have also played a key role in documenting the need for improved food store access in underserved neighborhoods in New Orleans and have collaborated with other organizations to promote an initiative to address this. By identifying best practices, our research has generated a set of actionable steps that could increase local health behaviors and outcomes.