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This paper examines the effects of food deserts in the Greater Los Angeles area on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program participants’ shopping behavior. Research on WIC program cost containment shows that costs are significantly higher at small, convenience-type vendors compared to supermarkets. However, to address the concern that stopping authorizing these small vendors or restricting their pricing practices could limit food access for participants living in food deserts, we use various approaches to study the WIC purchasing behavior of participants located in food deserts relative to a control group of participants located in non food-desert areas. Our results indicate that food-desert status has a positive effect on participants’ travel distance to shop. Food-desert participants were slightly more likely to visit multiple vendors than non-food-desert counterparts. Food-desert participants were also slightly more likely to visit a large vendor than non-food-desert counterparts. On balance we conclude that food-desert participants are not more reliant on small vendors to make WIC purchases than participants in the control group. This result suggests policies to restrict behavior high-cost small vendors can be implemented by WIC agencies without causing much impact on participant access.


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