On May 23, 2022, Wiring WIC, a virtual symposium hosted by the WIC Health and Technology Initiative—a project of New America in collaboration with the Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the MIT Media Lab, and supported by the Rockefeller and Aetna Foundations—presented the findings from their work on technology innovations to strengthen the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) initiative, along with recommendations for how technology can continue to improve WIC today and in the future.
The Wiring WIC symposium was led by Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal MD, MPA (ret), who is the Director of the Health Innovations Lab at New America and a Former US Assistant Surgeon General. Dr. Blumenthal is also a visiting professor at the Media Lab and a member of the Lab's advisory council.
Media Lab director Dava Newman provided welcoming remarks; additional Media Lab speakers included Hildreth England, whose work at the Lab focused on complex systems change efforts and human-centered communications, policy, and technology projects; and David Sun Kong, director of the Media Lab's Community Biotechnology Initiative.
Wiring WIC grew out of the 50% Conference, a 1.5-day meeting at the MIT Media Lab in September 2017 that invited participants to reimagine what is possible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in the digital age.
At the 50% Conference, futurists, designers, technologists, researchers, public health experts, policymakers, and private sector collaborators convened to explore the transformative possibilities of technology to modernize WIC, help families make food purchases, collect and surface the data about what foods are bought, and provide interactive nutrition feedback and education to WIC clients. Participants considered innovative approaches for using technology and social media beyond the food purchasing experience—for example, promoting nutritional health, providing child development tips, and preventing obesity among WIC beneficiaries. Experts from IDEO facilitated the experience.
What is WIC?
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a critical federal food assistance initiative established in 1974 to help reduce food insecurity and hunger in America. It’s the third largest federal nutrition program in the United States behind SNAP and the National School Lunch program. For nearly five decades, WIC has served as an important safety net program, providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals for eligible low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age five who are medically or nutritionally at risk.
Modernizing WIC as a technology enhanced, participant-centered program is an opportunity to improve the nutrition, health, and economic security of millions of people in the US, reduce health care costs linked with hunger and obesity, and as a result, strengthen America’s future now and in the years ahead.