Year of publication
Social Science & Medicine
For the 22% of American children who live below the federal poverty line, and the additional 23% who live below twice that level, nutritional policy is part of the safety net against hunger and its negative effects on children's development. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides steadily available food from the food groups essential for physical and cognitive development. The effects of WIC on dietary quality among participating women and children are strong and positive. Furthermore, there is a strong influence of nutrition on cognitive development and socioeconomic inequality. Yet, research on the non-health effects of U.S. child nutritional policy is scarce, despite the ultimate goal of health policies directed at children—to enable productive functioning across multiple social institutions over the life course. Using two nationally representative, longitudinal surveys of children—the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) and the Child Development Supplement (CDS) of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics—I examine how prenatal and early childhood exposure to WIC is associated in the short-term with cognitive development, and in the longer-term with reading and math learning. Results show that early WIC participation is associated with both cognitive and academic benefits. These findings suggest that WIC meaningfully contributes to children's educational prospects.