Researcher Profile: Dr. Elizabeth Racine
Dr. Racine is an Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at the College of Health and Human Services at UNC-Charlotte. She is interested in understanding the incentives and barriers to healthy eating and physical activity among different populations and in evaluating the impact of food assistance programs on diet quality and food security. Her research is focused on the evaluation of nutrition and physical activity policies and programs. She has evaluated elements of the WIC program, the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and SOS–a home delivered feeding program similar to Meals on Wheels.
In your white paper you identify numerous interventions and research strategies intended to facilitate a smooth WIC item selection process and encourage participants to choose lower priced WIC items. What are the top three interventions/ research strategies that you think researchers and policymakers should prioritize implementing? Why?
The primary lesson learned from our research was that WIC participants have a very hard time learning what foods/beverages are and which aren’t WIC approved. Especially since WIC participants need to not only know which brands of food/beverages are WIC approved, they also need to make sure they know the allowable sizes. We also learned that once WIC participants understand which foods/beverages “work” they repeatedly purchase the same items. Interventions that help people new to the WIC program select a ‘basket’ of WIC approved foods that meet their nutritional needs and taste preferences while encouraging lower priced items would make the shopping experience easier for WIC participants. Partnerships with food stores to help newly enrolled WIC participants select a ‘starter’ package may be helpful. Utilizing food store online ordering, which could be done at the WIC office with the assistance of WIC staff, may be helpful.
What are the barriers that prevent dollar stores from becoming WIC-approved? What can be done to assist low-cost stores in getting approved?
There are 3 primary dollar store chains—Family Dollar, Dollar General and Dollar Tree and each operate in multiple states. While many WIC policies are the same from state to state, I believe food chains submit an application to become WIC approved for each state; resulting in multiple applications for the food chain. Also, the minimum stocking requirements in each state may be different. Dollar stores would also have to work to make sure their computer system ‘recognized’ WIC approved food/beverage items. Since the approved WIC food list will be different for each state, more computer programming at the chain headquarters will be required to ensure that the chain meets all the various WIC State Agencies requirements. The dollar stores also need to ensure that their staff is adequately trained to understand the rules and regulations around WIC.
I think many low-cost stores do not understand the requirements for WIC authorization. Public health staff at local health departments could partner with low-cost stores to help them through the application process.
Can you talk about your experience working on improving access to healthy food in food deserts? Who are your key stakeholders and how are they involved?
In the Charlotte region, farmers’ markets and mobile markets have been started and corner stores have been enhanced with healthier food options to address the lack of health foods in food deserts. The approach that seems to work best, in my opinion, is mobile markets. Mobile markets go where the people are, when the people are there. Our mobile market initiatives partnering with local churches have been most successful. Key stakeholders include mobile market operators, community leaders, church leaders, and the local health department, which can often assist in getting mobile markets SNAP authorized.