Study: Healthier WIC food package leads to change in food-buying habits
The changes in the nutritional content of the food packages under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) led participants to buy fewer calorie-dense, pre-packaged foods with high amounts of sugar and salt in their regular household purchases, according to a study released today by the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The WIC food packages were updated by the Agriculture Department in 2009.
The study, titled “Federal Nutrition Program Revisions Impact Low-income Households’ Food Purchases,” was published online today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“We found that the WIC food package revisions directly correlated with improved nutritional profiles of food purchases among WIC-participating households,” said Shu Wen Ng, the lead author of the study. “One of the most striking and encouraging results was that these improvements became more pronounced over time.”
“This included declines of more than 9 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the recommended daily sodium and sugar intake for adults, and nine and 60 percent declines for pre-school-aged children.”
WIC food packages are an income-eligible program created for pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5 living at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines and based on participant age and developmental status. The packages have traditionally included milk, eggs, cereals, whole grains, legumes and juice.
The foods available in the packages had remained relatively unchanged from the program’s inception in 1972 until a decision was made to implement revisions in 2009. The revisions were based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics infant feeding guides. The revisions included such foods as whole-grain breads and cereals, as well as fruits and vegetables, all of which were available with WIC vouchers.
Ng’s team tracked purchases of foods in 4,537 low-income, WIC-eligible households, excluding non-packaged foods, using the Nielsen Homescan Panel. Analysis was based on such nutrients as calories, sugar, fats, sodium, protein and fiber purchased each quarter.
“Because we looked at overall household purchases, that is, not just WIC-subsidized purchases, our results suggest that the WIC package revisions and associated efforts may be helping WIC families make healthier choices among their overall packaged food purchases,” Ng said.
Funding for the study comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation via its Healthy Eating Research Program and the National Institutes of Health via the Carolina Population Center.
–The Hagstrom Report