Research is needed to explore and demonstrate the economic value and impact of WIC investments. For example, early investments in WIC may not show immediate savings due to the time-limited nature of the program. Longitudinal studies demonstrating the impact of WIC on cost-savings need to be explored i.e., following children over a longer period than the 5 years of WIC eligibility. Research has documented $1.77 to $3.13 reductions in Medicaid costs for every $1 spent on WIC. While a replication of this Medicaid cost study would be ideal, the complexity of data systems across states and the cost of such data collection are likely to pose significant barriers. In addition, previous work has focused on the prenatal and postpartum periods. Studies of the cost-saving impacts on children have yet to be explored.
In the last 5-10 years, developments in systems science research in public health (i.e. computer simulation models that incorporate research evidence to understand and predict complex health problems and evaluate the impact of health interventions) provide a promising approach to examining WIC’s impact on cost savings. Decision analyses and causal inference methods such as agent-based modeling and microsimulation could be used to investigate the potential cost savings that might result from WIC participation. Using modeling techniques, reductions in poor health outcomes linked to WIC participation (e.g., prematurity, low birth weight, childhood obesity) could be linked to WIC, Medicaid, and other program expenditures, yielding detailed analyses of cost savings and cost-effectiveness. For this work to be successful, partnerships between the research community and WIC will be essential so that details about WIC service delivery, as well as real costs, can be captured accurately.