Supporting healthy weight and nutrition from pregnancy through the first five years
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the nation’s largest federal nutrition programs, serving nearly 7.3 million participants. WIC helps low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 achieve and maintain a healthy weight by providing healthy foods and nutrition education; promoting breastfeeding and supporting nursing mothers; and providing healthcare and social-service referrals. WIC was funded at $6.17 billion in FY18, with $60 million designated for breastfeeding initiatives, and $18.5 million directed to the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program that provides fresh, locally grown produce to participants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the funds and state agencies execute the program.
The WIC food package is required by law to be periodically re-evaluated to ensure it aligns with the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines. In 2009, the WIC food package was updated to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat milk. Research shows that, following the changes, WIC participants are buying and eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. National obesity rates for 2- to 4-year-old children on WIC declined from 15.9 percent in 2010 to 14.5 in 2014.
The following recommendations regarding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program come from State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, 2018 produced by Trust for America’s Health and RWJF.
• Congress and the Administration should maintain and strengthen essential nutrition supports for low-income children, families, and individuals through programs—like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC—and expand programs and pilots to make healthy foods more available and affordable through the program.
• Hospitals should improve the nutritional quality of meals and promote breastfeeding.
• USDA should continue to ensure that WIC provides mothers, infants, and young children with access to affordable, healthy food and breastfeeding support.
WIC Food Vouchers
In 2009, WIC started giving program participants vouchers that would pay for fruits and vegetables, tofu, and whole-grain foods. Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, evaluated the impact of the changes on corner stores, convenience stores, and bodegas in two lower-income North Philadelphia neighborhoods. The evaluation found that the changes prompted those stores to begin carrying fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and other healthy foods; researchers also found that the changes prompted non-WIC participating stores in the area to carry healthier foods as well.
Updated Nutrition Recommendations
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued new nutrition recommendations for the WIC food package, which include providing more fish; increasing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and reducing sodium and saturated fat. The recommendations are expected to “improve both the attractiveness of the program to participants and its success in meeting the WIC program’s goals.”
Breastfeeding is associated with a variety of Health Benefits
Breastfeeding is associated with a variety of health benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continuing to breastfeed through the first year of life. WIC supports breastfeeding by connecting new mothers with breastfeeding peer counselors and lactation consultants, providing classes and support groups alongside educational materials, and offering a hotline for questions.
31 states and three U.S. territories reported obesity rate declines among 2-to-4 year olds participating in WIC between 2010 and 2014.
In 2014, 1.96% of 2-to 4-year old WIC participants were severely obese, a decline from 2.12 percent in 2010.
In 2015,1.9 million infants in the United States were covered under WIC, 76 percent of the 2.5 million eligible.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook A 2017 study concluded that breastfeeding rates among WIC recipients increased dramatically between 1994 and 2013.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook According to the CDC, potential factors that may have contributed to the decline in obesity rates among 2-to-4 year olds on WIC between 2010 and 2014 include the updated nutrition standards to WIC food packages, revisions to promote and support breastfeeding and general increased awareness of the importance of preventing obesity at an early age.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Research shows that, following the 2009 revisions to the WIC food package, WIC families purchased food that contained significantly fewer calories, and less sodium, fat and added sugars.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook The WIC’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program serves more than 1.7 million WIC participants; in FY2017, 16,815 farmers, 3,312 farmers’ markets and 2,367 roadside stands were authorized to accept benefits.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook A study found that WIC participants who received longer postpartum benefits were less likely to have obesity in their next pregnancy
Originally posted in August 2018.