Because of the compounding effects of discrimination in our medical, legal, and social services infrastructures, Black mothers and infants in the United States face worse health outcomes than other groups. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – which offers stipends for healthy foods and nutrition education – reduces racial disparities in infant mortality, and improves other key health outcomes for Black families living in the context of poverty.

WIC’s potential reach is wide. Nearly half of all infants born in the United States are eligible for the program. However, of the 2.4 million Black individuals eligible for WIC, 41% of them are not participating.  Some families make an active choice not to participate in WIC, some face structural hurdles like irregular work schedules that make WIC appointment attendance difficult, and others are deterred by administrative or psychological barriers, like remembering to prepare the many documents needed for appointments, or uncertainty about if they’re eligible to participate in the first place.

We’ve learned in previous research that behavioral design can help potential and current WIC participants overcome the administrative and psychological barriers to program participation and access beneficial nutritional support for their families. For instance, WIC appointment attendance increases for a significant number of families when text message-based appointment reminders are delivered with more advanced notice, giving them adequate time to plan or reschedule when unexpected obstacles arise, like last-minute changes in work schedules or delays in obtaining the paperwork necessary for their appointment.

Given the historical and institutional racism faced by Black families accessing public benefit programs, we approached our latest work with WIC through an equity lens. We designed a suite of WIC appointment reminders to specifically address administrative and psychological barriers for Black families.

Read the full article about behavioral design and racial equity by Antonia Violante and Moises Roman-Mendoza at ideas42.