It is well recognized that a woman’s nutritional status during pregnancy can greatly influence her own health as well the future health of her child. In addition, good nutrition during a child’s first years of life is critical for proper growth and development. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps to address the needs of this highly vulnerable population.
What is WIC?
WIC is a federal grant program to help support the health of low-income pregnant women, postpartum mothers, infants, and children up to age five. The program provides a supplemental food package, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and healthcare referrals to more than 8 million individuals each month who are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line and are at nutritional risk. Currently, WIC helps to support half of all infants born in the United States.
How is WIC evolving?
In 2009, the food packages provided through WIC were updated and expanded to increase the nutritional quality of the foods provided as well as to increase the range of food choices. In addition to the basic foods typically provided, including milk, eggs, fruit juice, iron-fortified cereal, beans, peanut butter, and infant formula, the new packages include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, low-fat milk, and the added options of soymilk and tofu.
After tracking the impact of these improved food packages for the last several years, it has become clear that the changes have led to a variety of positive outcomes for both families and communities. Several studies have shown that the improved WIC food packages have led to increased fruit, vegetable, and whole grain intake by WIC participants, improving their overall diets. In addition, overweight and obesity rates in young children enrolled in WIC have started to slowly decline.
Studies suggest that the new WIC food packages have also had a positive impact on the food environment in many low-income neighborhoods, encouraging food establishments to carry more of the healthy foods reimbursed through WIC. This means a greater availability and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in stores that accept WIC vouchers, and even in some cases in non-WIC stores. Although there is still much room for improvement of healthy food access in many neighborhoods and communities across the country, these findings indicate a step in the right direction.
By supporting WIC, we are reducing food insecurity and supporting the future of our communities by ensuring that women and children have education about and access to healthy food. For further information on benefits of the revised WIC food packages, see this publication by the Food Research and Action Center.
Chloe Plummer, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian with ProMedica Advocacy and Community Health, and her main passion is promoting childhood and adolescent health and wellness. She has a bachelor of science degree in Health and Sport Studies from Miami University and a master of science degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University. Her column, Nutrition at the Table, appears on HealthConnect each month.