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Baltimore City Stores Increased The Availability Of Healthy Food After WIC Policy Change

November 01, 2015
Health Affairs

Laura K. Cobb, Cheryl A. M. Anderson, Lawrence Appel, Jessica Jones-Smith, Usama Bilal, Joel Gittelsohn, and Manuel Franco

As part of a 2009 revision to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, the Department of Agriculture required WIC-authorized stores to stock additional varieties of healthy food. The long-term effects of this policy on access to healthy food are unknown. Using surveys conducted in 118 Baltimore City, Maryland, food stores in 2006 and 2012, we examined associations of the change in healthy food availability with store type, neighborhood demographics, and the 2009 WIC policy change. Overall, healthy food availability improved significantly between 2006 and 2012, with the greatest increases in corner stores and in census tracts with more than 60 percent black residents. On an 11-point scale measuring availability of fruit (3 points), vegetables (4 points), bread (2 points), and milk (2 points), the WIC policy change was associated with a 0.72-point increase in WIC-relevant healthy food availability, while joining WIC was associated with a 0.99-point increase. Stores that carry a limited variety of food items may be more receptive to stocking healthier food than previously thought, particularly within neighborhoods with a majority of black residents. Policies targeting healthy food availability have the potential to increase availability and decrease health disparities.