Is a WIC Start a Better Start? Evaluating WIC's Impact on Infant Health Using Program Introduction

Hilary W. Hoynes, Marianne E. Page, Ann Huff Stevens

NBER Working Paper No. 15589
Issued in December 2009
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Care, Labor Studies, Public Economics

The goal of federal food and nutrition programs in the United States is to improve the nutritional well-being and health of low income families. A large body of literature evaluates the extent to which the Supplemental Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) has accomplished this goal, but most studies have been based on research designs that compare program participants to non-participants. If selection into these programs is non-random then such comparisons will lead to biased estimates of the program's true effects. In this study we use the rollout of the WIC program across counties to estimate the impact of the program on infant health. We find that the implementation of WIC lead to an increase in average birthweight and a decrease in the fraction of births that are classified as low birthweight. We find no evidence that these estimates are driven by changes in fertility. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the initiation of WIC lead to a ten percent increase in the birthweight of infants born to participating mothers.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15589

Published: “Can Targeted Transfers Improve Birth Outcom es? Evidence from the Introduction of the WIC Program,” (with Hilary Hoynes and Ann Stevens), Journal of Public Economics , 95: 813-827, August 2011.

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