By Rebecca Kellogg
A recent study by a professor at the University of Utah has confirmed the efficacy of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in raising infant birthweights.
The study, published by Lori Kowaleski-Jones, assistant professor of Family and Consumer Studies, in cooperation with Greg Duncan of Northwestern University, is titled “Effects of Participation in the WIC Program on Birth Weight: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.” It appeared in the May 2002 issue of The American Journal of Public Health.
The study bolsters WIC”s reputation, which is largely built on several evaluations conducted at the state level over a decade ago.
Past studies may have contained potential selection bias because they don”t account for the factors determining why women eligible for WIC and in similar situations will make different choices about whether to sign up, Kowaleski-Jones said.
“We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the United States Department of Agriculture and Institute for Research on Poverty Food Assistance Small Grants Program,” Kowaleski-Jones said.
WIC is widely used in the Beehive State, with a caseload of 61,000 statewide and a concentration of 22,000 in Salt Lake County.
“We recommend that all expecting and qualifying mothers enroll in the WIC Program in the first trimester,” said Kevin Condra, a program manager for WIC in Salt Lake City.
“The earlier a mother can begin on the program the greater the benefits will be to her and the unborn child,” he said.
For families who live at or below 150 percent of poverty, WIC provides food vouchers and nutrition education.
Condra said both are equally beneficial.
“Food vouchers may help with short-term needs to feed the family, however the education will be beneficial for life,” he said.
“The purpose of the nutrition education is to teach skills or increase knowledge that will benefit families long after they are off of the WIC program.”
Feelings toward WIC range in extremity from anger or dislike for yet another government program to gratefulness for a little bit more, and better, food to eat.
“When I first heard of what WIC was it was because we lived next to a Lutheran church that was also a WIC center,” said Kristin Bishop, 23, a senior majoring in marriage, family, and human development from Fremont, Calif.
Bishop”s thoughts about WIC have ranged the spectrum over time.
“People would come to our house all the time and knock on our door with tons of kids and ask where the WIC center was. I thought we should provide them with birth control instead of food.”
Bishop said she drew a personal connection when she moved to Utah.
“When I came up here to BYU and found out I had a bunch of friends on WIC – it shocked me that they were all on government programs to have and support kids. And actually, I might need to use WIC someday when I have kids.”
Colleen Whitley, a BYU instructor in English and Honors said she has had some experience with WIC since she helped open a school for adults on welfare that later became the first alternative high school in the state.
“So many people below the poverty level are actually working, just earning very low wages,” said Whitley. “I have known several people who have used WIC. Of the ones I still know, they are now self-sufficient, job-holding taxpayers.”
Whitley said she thinks WIC is one of the most sensible welfare programs around.
“It is fairly easy to administer – in small localities it can be lumped with several other duties and handled by one person – and it gets direct aid to those most in need and most unable to help themselves,” Whitley said. “It is one of those programs that simply stabilize families until they can get on their own feet.”