Socioemotional development in early childhood has long-term impacts on health status and social outcomes, and racial and socioeconomic disparities in socioemotional skills emerge early in life. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is an early childhood nutrition intervention with the potential to ameliorate these disparities. Our objective was to assess the impact of WIC on early socioemotional development in a longitudinal study. We examined the association between WIC participation and scores on the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) in 327 predominantly African American mother-child dyads who were participants in the longitudinal Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development in Early Life (CANDLE) Study (Memphis, TN). To account for selection bias, we used within-child fixed effects to model the variability in each child's BITSEA scores over two measurement occasions (ages 12 and 24 months). Final models were adjusted for time-varying characteristics including child age, maternal stress, mental health, child abuse potential, marital status, and food stamp participation. In fully adjusted models, we found no statistically significant effect of WIC on change in socioemotional development (β = 0.22 [SD = 0.39] and β = - 0.58 [SD = 0.79] for BITSEA Competence and Problem subdomains, respectively). Using rigorous methods and a longitudinal study design, we found no significant association between WIC and socioemotional development in a high needs population. This finding suggests that early childhood interventions that more specifically target socioemotional development are necessary if we are to reduce racial disparities in socioemotional skills and prevent poor social and health outcomes across the life course.
Keywords: Disparities; Early childhood; Policy; Socioemotional; WIC.