Cost-effectiveness of Improved WIC Food Package for Preventing Childhood Obesity

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Journal Article

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) prevents food insecurity and supports nutrition for more than 3 million low-income young children. Our objectives were to determine the cost-effectiveness of changes to WIC's nutrition standards in 2009 for preventing obesity and to estimate impacts on socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities. METHODS: We conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis to estimate impacts from 2010 through 2019 of the 2009 WIC food package change on obesity risk for children aged 2 to 4 years participating in WIC. Microsimulation models estimated the cases of obesity prevented in 2019 and costs per quality-adjusted-life year gained. RESULTS: An estimated 14.0 million 2- to 4-year old US children (95% uncertainty interval (UI), 13.7-14.2 million) were reached by the updated WIC nutrition standards from 2010 through 2019. In 2019, an estimated 62 700 (95% UI, 53 900-71 100) cases of childhood obesity were prevented, entirely among children from households with low incomes, leading to improved health equity. The update was estimated to cost $10 600 per quality-adjusted-life year gained (95% UI, $9760-$11 700). If WIC had reached all eligible children, more than twice as many cases of childhood obesity would have been prevented. CONCLUSIONS: Updates to WIC's nutrition standards for young children in 2009 were estimated to be highly cost-effective for preventing childhood obesity and contributed to reducing socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities in obesity prevalence. Improving nutrition policies for young children can be a sound public health investment; future research should explore how to improve access to them.


Prevention and Community Health