WIC-Medicaid study is one of many at FNS

WIC-Medicaid study is one of many at FNS – Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Food and Nutrition Service

The WIC-Medicaid study is one of many products of the Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Analysis and Evaluation (OAE). It demonstrates how research can provide timely, complete, and accurate information to policymakers.

In fact, the President’s budget cited the WIC-Medicaid study in requesting additional funds to expand WIC participation in fiscal year 1992.

The importance of evaluation in deciding funding levels and as a management tool to ensure that programs are doing their intended job led FNS to establish its research and analysis division in the late 1970s.

Today, OAE director Jan Lilja heads a professional team that manages a research budget of $17 million, including $5 million for WIC-related research.

“The credibility of the WIC-Medicaid findings reflects careful advance planning and labor-intensive data analysis,” says Lilja.

“From the point of view of statistical complexity, WIC-Medicaid was unique,” she says. “In each state, we had to match three different databases, kept in different ways.

“We had to deal with differences in how Medicaid and WIC are administered and documented in order to known which findings were comparable. And we had to distinguish between cost savings due to WIC and those due to prenatal care.

“This required sophisticated analytic techniques and it required exceptional support from state cooperators. The results were a clear showing that WIC participation by pregnant, low-income women leads to healthier mothers and babies and Medicaid savings.”

Of great interest to many groups

Lilja points out that interest in the WIC-Medicaid study extends beyond USDA and the cost implications for Medicaid: “The study is of great interest to all those persons and organizations working to reduce infant mortality and improve the health and welfare of children at risk.”

An initial printing of 1,000 copies did not begin to meet requests, she says. Several states did their own printings, and some distributed copies to their entire state legislatures.

FNS also provided briefings at the request of committees of the U.S. Congress, the federal Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Birthweight Prevention Work-group, the National Association of WIC Directors, regional meetings of WIC agencies and Maternal and Child Health Programs, and other agencies and organizations.

As additional funds allow WIC to target more benefits to young children, OAE is addressing a new research challenge. The narrowly focused WIC-Medicaid study shed light on one aspect of the program, but much less is known about WIC’s effect on children.

“We have begun work on a study of WIC’s impact on children,” says Lilja. “Potentially, this could be the largest evaluation we have ever done. It’s an opportunity to answer many questions of concern both to health research and to educational studies that follow children over a period of years.”

She says the ‘child impact’ study has already galvanized the interest of Head Start, Environmental Protection Agency staff concerned with lead poisoning among children, the Centers for Disease Control, and other federal and non-federal agencies and programs.

“The challenge will be to meet our primary goals of evaluation and to satisfy other interests at the same time. We are laying the groundwork very carefully to ensure solid data,” says Lilja.

A field test of two research designs was recently completed to test data collection procedures and ways to implement the study.

Studies provide valuable information

Through these and other studies of WIC and other food assistance programs, OAE continues to supply information that affects all aspects of program funding and operation.

The studies identify what works and what doesn’t how to target benefits where the need is greatest, what is cost effective and what isn’t, and how to intervene with high-risk populations.

“It’s easy to appreciate the upfront role of WIC nutritionists who weight and measure babies, refere them for shots, prescribe food packages, and advise moms on good nutrition,” says Lilja.

“The research that backs up this wonderful first line of workers is less visible. Yet, when government policies involve a tradeoff between competing interests, good numbers are the basis for effective advocacy.

“Everyone wants healthy babies and children. We are proud that our study shows conclusively WIC’s important contribution to reaching that goal.”

COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group