The USDA/Tufts Telehealth Intervention Strategies for WIC (THIS-WIC) has selected seven WIC State Agencies (SAs) to receive awards up to $1,000,000 each to implement novel telehealth interventions in delivery of USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). WIC provides supplemental food, nutrition education (including breastfeeding promotion and support), and referrals to health care and other social services to low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age. On average, nearly half of all infants in the United States, over a quarter of all pregnant and postpartum women, and over a quarter of all children less than 5 years of age participate in the program.
Selected through a competitive review process, these 24- to 30-month projects will use innovative telehealth solutions that supplement nutrition education and breastfeeding support to WIC participants and help overcome barriers to access, particularly those encountered in rural settings.
The THIS-WIC team is led by Principal Investigator Erin Hennessy, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition. The interdisciplinary team brings together faculty from the Friedman School, Tufts University School of Medicine, Old Dominion University, the American Telemedicine Association, RTI International, and a national Advisory Board of WIC and telehealth experts, practitioners, and researchers. The THIS-WIC team will oversee the evaluation of the interventions and provide technical support to funded WIC State Agencies.
The awardees are:
District of Columbia—Advancing Telehealth Technology and Innovation in DC WIC
DC WIC will evaluate and identify ways to enhance the agency’s current telehealth activities, including existing telehealth education tools. In addition, the project will investigate strategies for integrating telehealth into home visiting program delivery models.
Georgia—Technology and WIC—A Comprehensive Approach to Public Health
Georgia WIC will build on an existing statewide telehealth platform, Pathways Telehealth, to extend services beyond current boundaries. Through this platform, Georgia WIC will expand telehealth options to include web and mobile delivery, decreasing barriers to access in rural communities, with the goal of influencing dietary habits and infant feeding practices.
Michigan—Michigan Telehealth Project Advancing WIC
Michigan WIC will implement a pilot study in six rural counties to integrate telehealth technology into delivery of nutrition education and breastfeeding support services to participants virtually. Telehealth appointments will allow certified professionals to provide high-risk follow-up and secondary education to families. A key feature of Michigan’s project is integration of a robust training component for both WIC staff and participants to ensure successful delivery of WIC services via telehealth and build comfort among participants.
North Carolina—Catching up with the times: Bringing WIC to participants via Telehealth Solutions
North Carolina WIC aims to decrease barriers of access to WIC services and increase focus on tailored nutritional needs through four different components: (1) a participant portal app for streamlining the WIC certification process, (2) a video chat component available on the portal to host distance appointments, (3) fixed kiosks to be placed in high-participant-traffic areas of the community with participant portal capabilities, and (4) a TeleWIC Service Center to be used by local WIC agencies that are short-staffed to facilitate distance-based appointments.
South Carolina—Telehealth Solutions for SC WIC
South Carolina WIC will develop an online, mobile-friendly telehealth application to enable WIC participants to access WIC services including high-risk nutrition care planning, breastfeeding education, breastfeeding support, and high-risk assessment via one-on-one video chat, phone call, text messaging, and document sharing through the app.
Vermont—Leveling Up: Delivery of Breastfeeding Education via Interactive Gamification
Vermont WIC will develop a game-based telehealth solution for use during pregnancy and early postpartum weeks to promote breastfeeding initiation and longer duration. Through the game portal, qualified WIC staff members will be able to track a WIC participant’s progress in order to tailor counseling to their needs. The game is designed to work in low-bandwidth areas.
Wisconsin—Online Nutrition Education (ONE) in Wisconsin
Wisconsin WIC plans to develop a multifaceted mobile-optimized website through the ONE system, an innovative tool that will combine videoconferencing, online nutrition education, including lessons and supporting secondary material, a messaging center, and a link to their existing WIC App. Through the tool, qualified WIC professionals will be able to share key information and content with participants, and participants will be able to use the materials in their own time.
THIS-WIC addresses USDA’s broader goal of developing a robust evidence base to support cost-effective telehealth interventions in WIC, improve client outcomes, and increase client retention. The evaluation will provide evidence to inform future decisions about whether and how the USDA WIC program may scale telehealth projects in the future.
“Extensive research has found that WIC improves the nutrition and health of low-income families, leading to more nutritious diets for pregnant and postpartum women, healthier infants, more nutritious diets and better health care for children, and higher academic achievement for children,” says Dr. Hennessy. “However, only half of all those eligible to participate in WIC currently do so. Through these grants, THIS-WIC looks to identify innovative, timely, and cost-effective solutions to addressing and overcoming barriers to participation and participant retention. These projects are especially timely given the COVID-19 pandemic, and, if successful, have the potential to be scaled nationally to increase reach and participation in WIC. “
THIS-WIC is funded by a cooperative agreement by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.