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Changes in WIC Food Choices Boosting Vegetable Consumption

A new study shows WIC helps put children on a healthy path.

Every so often, a well-organized and thoughtful plan achieves just the right results. Today, we celebrate the results of a newly-published scientific paper, which finds that children in the federal government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are eating more vegetables than they did a decade ago.

WIC is designed for low-income pregnant women, infants, and children who are at nutrition risk. Families participating in the WIC program receive benefits to buy nutritious foods for children of different ages and their moms. The program makes it easier for families to provide healthful foods to their families

The work toward this healthier goal began about a decade ago when the USDA took steps to ensure the foods available to WIC recipients aligned with the best available nutrition research. Starting in 2009, WIC packages began to include low-fat or non-fat milk, fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread alongside traditional WIC staples, such as iron-fortified cereal, beans, and peanut butter.

Researchers compared data from the 2008 and 2016 installments of Nestlé’s Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) to see how these changes impacted infant and toddler nutrition. They found:

  • In 2008, infants benefiting from WIC were less likely to eat vegetables than those not in the program, regardless of their family’s income. But in 2016, WIC infants were more likely to consume vegetables than low-income nonparticipants, indicating the new packages had made a positive difference.
  • In 2016, WIC participants between 2 and 4 years old were about as likely to consume vegetables as higher-income children of the same age, indicating that the revisions helped close wealth gaps in access to nutritious foods.

Earlier this year, another paper relying on FITS data found that children between the ages of 6–12 months who participated in WIC were more likely to meet iron, calcium, zin, potassium and Vitamin D when compared to their higher income peers.

There are additional indications that WIC is improving the nutritional intake of participants. National purchasing data show WIC participants started to buy more whole grains after the packages were redesigned to encourage them. And a study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the changes in WIC packages caused corner stores in Philadelphia to begin carrying some healthy foods including whole grain bread and more varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Taken all together, the research indicates that WIC works as it should: It makes it possible for small children to get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.

For the future, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recommended further reform of WIC packages, with the USDA offering the opportunity for consumers, health experts, and stakeholders to engage on how to reform and further improve the WIC package.

At its core, WIC makes healthy foods accessible to American families. At Nestlé, we’re committed to doing the same thing, through research, knowledge sharing, and product innovation. From iron-fortified infant cereals to plant-based beverages and meals, we work hard to bring affordable choices to families, so they can make enjoyable and healthy decisions about food, and we’re proud to support the nutrition community as we work together to reduce hunger and malnutrition.

More from FITS:




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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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