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Study: WIC changes linked to decline in obesity among toddlers :

April 1, 2019

Obesity rates among low-income toddlers dropped after changes were made to federal food vouchers, according to a new study.

In 2009, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food package was changed to increase purchases of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or skim milk while reducing juice and cheese.

Data have shown families using WIC reduced their calorie purchases by 11%, so researchers set out to look at obesity trends in more depth.

They analyzed data on 2- to 4-year-old WIC recipients from 2000-’14 and found the obesity rate increased from 13% in 2000 to 15% in 2008. In 2014, after the WIC changes, obesity dropped to 14%, according to “WIC Food Package Changes: Trends in Childhood Obesity Prevalence” (Daepp MIG, et al. Pediatrics. April 1, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2841).

After adjusting for changes in racial composition and child poverty, results showed obesity rates rose about 0.23 percentage points a year before the WIC changes and declined by 0.34 percentage points a year after.

Additional analysis found a mother’s pre-pregnancy body mass index and the infant’s birthweight were not significant factors in the obesity rate decline.

“A change in the trend in obesity prevalence related to dietary changes resulting from the 2009 package change is plausible,” authors wrote. “A substantial body of evidence has shown that the dietary habits of WIC participants improved from before to after the package change.”

They noted it is possible another event or program happening around the time of the WIC changes could have influenced the obesity trend. However, they do not believe available evidence supports the Great Recession, Affordable Care Act or other health interventions as likely causes for the decline.

Obesity trends varied by state but were not related to race or child poverty levels, according to the study. Authors said differences in the way WIC changes were implemented may have played a role and called for additional research.

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