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New Nestlé FITS Study Shows that WIC Works

Decades-old government program improves nutrition at a critical stage in life.

Raising a child is challenging under the best of circumstances, and even more so when a family is strained by tight finances and unable to put food on the table.

For more than four decades, a federal grant program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC — has provided healthy foods, nutrition counseling and breastfeeding guidance to families in need nationwide during the early days of a child’s life.

Today, nearly 8 million low-income women and children benefit from WIC assistance, and an expansive new study of young kids shows that this 1970s-era program is delivering positive results for families in the 21st century. In fact, WIC is even helping kids from lower-income families achieve a more nutritious lifestyle than many of their higher-income peers.

Nestlé’s Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), published on June 5, monitors and assesses the daily eating habits of children ages four years and younger through the reporting of caregivers. FITS provides data on everything from whole grain consumption to the number of kids drinking sugar sweetened beverages daily. It tells us that fried potatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetable among preschoolers and that 90 percent of 2- and 3-year-olds eat sweets like bakery items, candy or sweetened beverages on a given day. But the latest FITS report clearly demonstrates something else: the power of WIC.

Infants aged 6–12 months benefiting from the WIC program were more likely to meet iron, calcium, zinc, potassium and vitamin D guidelines than some infants in higher-income families not participating were. Toddlers and preschoolers in the WIC program benefit, too. They were more likely to be high in vitamin D and less likely to consume foods high in saturated fats than their peers in higher-income families.

This is an important confirmation of WIC’s value and science-based approach. WIC works by providing mothers vouchers to purchase specific, nutrient-dense foods, such as iron-fortified formula and cereal, fruits, vegetables, milk and whole grain breads. The latest data shows the program is helping small children get the nutrients their growing bodies need during the most critical stages of development.

FITS is the first study to compare the dietary intake of children after the WIC package change in 2009. Nestlé chose to dive into this data because it supports our company’s effort to help 50 million children lead healthier lives by 2030. By understanding the gaps in childhood nutrition, we can better identify and craft solutions.

Gerber has used the data from previous Feeding Infants and Toddlers Studies to develop products and services, such as their menu planner that helps parents develop weekly menus designed to meet their child’s nutritional needs. And Gerber’s infant cereals are specifically formulated to help infants and small children consume a nutrient they might otherwise be missing: iron. FITS found that nationwide, about 1 in 5 infants ages 6–12 months don’t consume the recommended amount of iron, a vital nutrient that supports brain development and prevents anemia. However, only 13% of 6- to 12-month-old infants benefiting from WIC have an iron deficiency. Researchers point to the presence of iron-fortified foods. WIC vouchers make it possible, and easy, for parents to give their children these important nutrients.

By supporting early childhood nutrition — whether through individual efforts, government programs like WIC or the work we do at Nestlé — we’re setting kids up for happy, healthy and successful lives. That’s why at Nestlé, we’re committed to doing our part by developing tasty, nutritious and affordable products. As the world’s largest food and beverage company, we’re in a unique position to help parents create healthy and fulfilling menus so their families can thrive.

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Wendy Johnson, Ph.D, MPH, RD

Wendy Johnson, Ph.D, MPH, RD

Nutrition, Health & Wellness VP at @NestleUSA, former NIH public health nutrition and health policy adviser, Tar Heel for life

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