Objective: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federally-funded program that provides supplemental food packages, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals to low-income women, infants, and children under 5, who are at the highest nutritional risk. This study explores if household WIC participation is associated with healthier dietary behaviors among age-ineligible children (5-18-years-old) in WIC households. Consumption frequency of fruits, vegetables, 100% juice, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and energy-dense snacks (sweet and salty snacks) among children from WIC and income-qualifying non-WIC households were compared.
Methods: Data were obtained from two cross-sectional panels (2009-10 and 2014) of the New Jersey Child Health Study conducted in four low-income New Jersey cities. Questions from previously validated surveys assessed consumption frequency of fruits, vegetables, SSBs, and sweet and salty snacks. Analyses were confined to 570 children between 5-18 yrs; of which 365 (5-11 yrs: 237, 12-18 yrs: 128) resided in WIC participating households and 205 (5-11 yrs: 138, 12-18 yrs: 67) in income-qualifying non-WIC households. Over half of the sample was African American and 43% were Hispanic. Multivariable analyses were conducted to compute incidence rate ratios (IRRs) using negative binomial regression to compare the differences in eating behaviors of children in WIC vs. Non-WIC households
Results: Household WIC participation was associated with a slightly higher frequency of vegetable consumption among 12-18-year-old children (IRR= 1.25, p=.05); differences were significant among older males (12-18-years-old) (p=.006), and not in females.
Frequency of 100% juice consumption was significantly higher among younger females (5-11-years-old) in WIC households who consumed juice about 44% more frequently (p=.02) compared to similar age girls in non-WIC households. Hispanic children in WIC households reported a lower frequency of SSBs consumption (p=.01); this association was only true among males (p=.02).
Conclusions: Household WIC participation is associated with healthier dietary behaviors among age-ineligible children living in the households, suggesting a positive spillover effect of the program. Proposed changes to WIC packages are likely to have dietary implications not only for WIC participants but also for non-participating children residing in WIC households,