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What are the current feeding practices of infants and toddlers?

Examining low-income infant and toddler feeding practices

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program that offers supplemental healthy foods and nutrition education to low-income postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children (up to age 5) who are at nutritional risk. FNS needs up-to-date information on current child feeding practices and nutritional outcomes, especially in light of 2009 changes to WIC food packages and programs.

The WIC Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2 (WIC ITFPS-2) was launched to examine the feeding practices employed by those who enroll in WIC around the time of their child’s birth. Study participants remain eligible for the study even if they do not continue with WIC. By capturing data on caregivers and their children over the first 9 years of the child’s life, the study informs a series of research questions regarding

  • Feeding practices
  • Association between WIC participation and those practices
  • Health and nutrition-related outcomes of children currently or previously on WIC

The Westat team is led by experts in nutrition, epidemiology, child development, and health economics. We recruited a nationally representative sample of 4,000+ mothers at WIC sites to participate in the study.

We collected data from WIC state agencies and from WIC staff to contextualize how WIC sites are delivering services.

Trained telephone data collectors regularly interview study participants until the child’s 9th birthday. The first part of the interview includes detailed questions about what the child ate on a given day. The second part inquires about specific feeding practices, social and demographic characteristics, satisfaction with WIC services, child health and development, and more.

We also gather weight and length or height data, depending on the child’s age, from WIC administrative records and health care providers.

This study uses Blaise, a comprehensive commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) survey processing system. It provides integrated multimode support for computer-assisted survey data collection. This includes interviewer-assisted (e.g., computer-assisted personal interviewing [CAPI], computer-assisted telephone interviewing [CATI]) and self-response (e.g., computer-assisted web interviewing [CAWI]) modes across a wide variety of platforms (smartphone, tablet, desktop).

Westat has prepared 4 of 7 final reports (at 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72 months and age 9 years) that present and interpret the longitudinal data in the only current national, longitudinal study of infant and toddler feeding practices in low-income families originally enrolled in WIC. Notable findings over the first few years of the study include

  • Increased acceptance of breastfeeding
  • Increased initiation and duration of breastfeeding
    • Though racial disparities remain, the greatest gains in initiation were among African American mothers.
  • Better diet quality of children who remain on WIC longer than children who leave the program earlier in life
    • After controlling for multiple factors, there were no significant differences by race, but children with Hispanic caregivers had higher diet quality scores than children with non-Hispanic caregivers.

In brief, findings indicate that WIC helps ensure that all U.S. children have access to nutritious foods

Findings from the WIC ITFPS-2 will be used to inform WIC program policy and the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the 0- to 24-month age group.

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