Thursday, December 23, 2004

Does WIC work? Yes, again

Marianne Bitler and Janet Currie have a good rebuttal to recent criticism of a long tradition of WIC research. Previous research has usually found that WIC (the special supplemental food program for Women, Infants and Children) improves birth outcomes. The criticism, including the "provocative" commentary of attorney Doug Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute, suggested that previous positive results might be due to "selection bias." In this account, WIC might falsely appear to be effective, because researchers are accidentally comparing outcomes for poorly motivated nonparticipants to the highly motivated (and implicitly better off) women who take the trouble to participate. But, in the new 2005 issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, a highly respected refereed journal, Bitler and Currie find exactly the opposite. The women who participate are those with the most severe needs, while nonparticipants may choose not to participate in part because they are better off and need the benefits less. If anything, traditional research approaches probably understate the benefits of WIC. The conclusion, at least for the effects of WIC's benefits for pregnant women, is the usual one: WIC works.

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