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Maryland Food Preference Study

The following study has concluded data collection and is no longer hiring. We hold a monthly writing group meeting for this project.

The Maryland State Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) asked our research team to develop and conduct a statewide study on foods that are purchased by WIC families, including information on brand, quantity, and the site where the food was purchased. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the current food package and make recommendations for future changes. We worked in collaboration with WIC in five counties in Maryland to collect the data: Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Allegany, Dorchester and Montgomery.

WIC has been effective in two of its primary objectives: reducing low birth weight and iron deficiency. However, during the past 30 years, obesity has become a major public health problem and many changes have impacted the nutritional needs of low-income women and children. Energy intakes often exceed energy requirements and fruit and vegetable consumption is low among WIC participants. In addition, there are advances in knowledge regarding nutrition and children's feeding behavior, the national food supply has expanded, cultural diversity in the US population has increased, and the dietary patterns of US families have changed.

To address the changing nutritional needs of the WIC population, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the WIC food packages and recommended specific changes which included: reduction of inadequate and excessive nutrient intake; adherence to Dietary Guidelines; promotion of breastfeeding; inclusion of affordable foods for low-income families; attention to culturally acceptable foods; and consideration of the impact of changes on vendors and WIC agencies.

The IOM recommended that pilot tests be conducted prior to implementation of the revised food packages to incorporate recommendations from participants into state-level decisions. Therefore, there were three study objectives: 1) to examine WIC participants' current food preferences and responses to anticipated changes, 2) to assess whether responses varied by race/ethnicity and 3) to examine the costs of the proposed WIC food packages.

Data in the form of interviews and focus groups were collected during the summer of 2007 from seven WIC clinics in five ethnically and geographically diverse counties in Maryland. In addition, a cost analysis of WIC foods was conducted in two WIC-approved stores in each county. The data from this study are currently being used by the Maryland State WIC Program to guide their decisions regarding the food package changes. A manuscript of this study has been submitted to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and is currently under review.