Healthy Eating Research is proud to announce the funding of 10 research teams with projects focused on COVID-19 and the federal nutrition programs, to inform decision-making regarding innovative policies and/or programs during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. These projects were funded through a special rapid-response commissioned research opportunity. Five research briefs and papers and five small studies were funded.

We look forward to working with these teams over the next several months and sharing the results of their projects in Spring/Summer 2021.

Research Briefs & Papers

1. Promoting Equitable Expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Online Purchasing Program
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; PI: Alyssa Moran, ScD, MPH, RD
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of online food retail, and the USDA has expanded their Online Purchasing Program, which allows payment with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for online orders. However, current online food retail policies and practices may unintentionally widen disparities in healthy food access, food security, and diet quality. The purpose of this issue brief is to provide recommendations for advocates and policymakers to guide an equitable expansion of the USDA Online Purchasing Program.

2. WIC Online Grocery Ordering: Opportunities and Potential Issues to Consider During COVID-19
University of Tennessee Foundation; PI: Betsy Anderson Steeves, PhD
This case study will report opportunities and potential issues for policymakers, WIC agencies, retailers, grocery retail technology providers, and WIC participants to consider in regard to WIC online ordering. The purpose of this case study is to rapidly disseminate critical information about WIC online ordering, based upon the first WIC “click and collect” (online order, in-store pickup) pilot study.

3. Acceptability, Preference, and No-Show Rates for In-Person and Phone-Based Consultations at Nine WIC Centers in New York City Before and During COVID-19
Public Health Solutions; PI: Mireille McLean, MPH
COVID-19 has impacted WIC sites in New York City two main ways: all WIC services have been moved from in-person to phone- and video-based modes of delivery and the economic shutdown has resulted in significantly more New York City residents qualifying for benefits. The purpose of this issue brief is to evaluate WIC client acceptability, preference, and no-show rates of in-person visits and phone-based visits in nine WIC centers across NYC.

4. Dynamics of Macroeconomic Shocks on Food Assistance Programs in the United States
Texas A&M AgriLife Research; PI: Oral Capps, Jr., MS, MS, PhD
The purpose of this paper is to identify and assess macroeconomic factors, particularly economic, financial, and sociological stressors, associated with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, linked to participation in the SNAP, WIC, and National School Lunch Programs. The goals of this project are twofold: (1) to identify and assess the importance of macroeconomic shocks on participation in key food assistance programs (SNAP, WIC, and NSLP) administered by the FNS; and (2) to forecast participation in these aforementioned programs twelve months ahead.

5. Review of Interdisciplinary Evidence for Food, Nutrition, Health, Media and Digital Literacy Capacity, Skills and Needs of SNAP Recipients to Inform Policies, Programs and Research in a COVID-19 Era
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; PI: Vivica Kraak, PhD, MS, RDN
The goal of this project is to review the evidence on food, nutrition, health, media and digital literacy of SNAP-eligible Americans with children. This will incude knowledge and skills as well as gaps and needs in these areas. Researchers will also examine the evidence on digital media and marketing policies and practices of retailers, and current online shopping trends of SNAP-eligible Americans. Finally, they will develop policy, program, and research recommendations to strengthen integrated literacy skills combined with a supportive infrastructure to address food insecurity and poor diet quality of SNAP-eligible Americans.

Small Studies

6. Online Ordering and Curbside Pick-up for WIC Participants during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Old Dominion University; PI: Harry Zhang, PhD
A growing number of consumers are ordering groceries online and picking them up in-store (OOPIS) to limit their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. WIC participants in most states are unable to use OOPIS to redeem their WIC benefits due to significant legal barriers. To overcome these barriers, Prime Time Nutrition stores in Oklahoma adopted a modified OOPIS model for WIC participants. This project aims to evaluate WIC participants’ adoption of the OOPIS model in Oklahoma and the impact of OOPIS on WIC participants’ benefit redemption behaviors. Learn More.

7. Assessing the Impact and Feasibility of WIC Remote Services and Expanded Food Options
University of Washington School of Public Health; PI: Jennifer Otten, PhD, RD
This project will assess programmatic changes instituted by Washington State’s WIC program during the COVID-19 pandemic, including waiving the “physical presence” requirement for certification appointments and providing nutrition education and breastfeeding support remotely (together referred to as remote services), and expanding the list of allowable foods. The study will draw on statewide WIC programmatic data and a purposive sample of WIC staff and clients to examine the reach and effectiveness of the programmatic changes, and investigate the factors, processes, facilitators, and challenges involved in the adoption and implementation of the programmatic changes. Learn More.

8. Strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through State Waiver Flexibilities: Perspectives from the National Network of State SNAP Directors
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; PI: Alyssa Moran, ScD, MPH, RD
Waivers and other state program modifications enacted during the pandemic could improve access to SNAP and reduce income and racial disparities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. The research team will conduct an online survey and focus groups within the national network of state SNAP administrators to understand opportunities and challenges for improving equitable access to SNAP based on best practices in state waiver flexibilities and program modifications implemented in response to COVID-19. Learn More.

9. Feeding Our Children: Comparing Pandemic EBT and School Meals-to-Go
University of Washington; PI: James Krieger, MD, MPH
Governments and school districts have rapidly adopted policies to help children facing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. Two leading policies include the Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) and school-based Meals-to-Go (MTG). The purpose of this study is to compare the P-EBT and MTG policies and conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis of their effects on food access and security for school-age children in the United States to inform efforts to increase food security for children when school is out – in the summer or during future crises. Learn More.

10. Urban School Food Infrastructure: Current Issues, Challenges, and Solutions
President and Fellows of Harvard College; PI: Sara N. Bleich, PhD
The goal of this research is to identity financial and operational issues facing urban school food infrastructure during COVID-19 as well as expected challenges and future solutions. This project focuses on the nation’s 12 largest school US districts. While all schools are grappling with logistical and financial challenges, urban districts face unique challenges that could exacerbate health inequities. Learn More.