Did Changes to W.I.C. Cause the Recent Drop in Childhood Obesity?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on August 13, 2013

Last week I shared on TLT’s Facebook page and  Twitter feed news of a Center for Disease Control report finding that rates of childhood obesity among low-income children have fallen modestly in 19 states between the years 2008-2011, the first such decline after years of rising obesity.

I noted last week that we don’t know exactly why this reversal occurred, but New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot offers an intriguing theory. In an August 9 New Yorker blog post, she describes research conducted by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity which indicates that changes made in 2009 to the federal W.I.C. program (Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children) may be the key driver.

Talbot describes how, in 2009, the USDA revised the list of foods which can be purchased with W.I.C. coupons, dropping items like sugary juices and cereals which are not whole grain, and adding items like whole grain breads and cereals and low-fat milk.  According to a Rudd Center study, this policy shift led food outlets in low-income neighborhoods (which often are not supermarkets but gas station-type “quick marts”) to stock healthier items, a trend that eventually affected even stores in those areas which did not accept W.I.C. coupons.  According to the Rudd Center, even small changes like a shift from juice to low-fat milk can have a significant impact on obesity rates among the very young children who participate in W.I.C.

Talbot goes on to discuss the implications of the Rudd findings with respect to proposed changes to SNAP (the federal food stamp program) and how such changes are opposed, perhaps surprisingly, by the political left.

Take a few minutes to read the entire post here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill Castle August 13, 2013 at 7:48 am

I totally agree with this theory–It doesn’t take Einstein to recognize the drop in low- income preschooler obesity is a reflection of the timing in changing the WIC food package items.
WIC works, and not only do the foods make a difference, but WIC provides more education than middle and high income families get in the realm of feeding, which has to have an impact as well.

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Michele Hays @QuipsTravails August 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm

That this particular assertion is one I’ve been making about the food desert for some time now: if we restrict SNAP (which is supposed to supplement nutrition) to at least exclude the worst of the food you find in a gas station, it will mean that small “fringe food” purveyors will have to offer healthier foods in order to get those dollars.

That being said, I’m not comfortable with the science here – it looks like a very small sample size, and very targeted questions. I am guessing that will be exploited by the very people they are trying to persuade.

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