WIC Food Package Review: An Opportunity
to Improve Nutrition for a Vulnerable Population at Critical Life Stages
As you may be aware, an expert committee of the National Academies’ Health and Medicine Division (HMD) – formerly the Institute of Medicine – is currently undertaking a two-phase examination of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food package.
About the WIC Package Review Process:
The committee has already issued its Phase I report, which proposed a framework and strategy for revisions, and a letter report
about white potatoes in the WIC food package. In progress now is the Phase II report, which is expected to be released in 2017. The goal of the WIC package review is to recommend changes in the food packages, as appropriate, while ensuring that the recommendations are practical and economically feasible, reflect current nutrition science, are efficient for nationwide distribution and allow the program to effectively meet the nutritional and cultural needs of the WIC population.
The committee recently convened a workshop and public comments session in California to discuss state, vendor and manufacturer considerations to inform WIC food package recommendations. Speakers included representatives from agencies such as USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); academics and researchers; state WIC directors; as well as the private sector. Key topics and takeaways coming out of the workshop include:
The need for flexibility in food package/container size, which was also emphasized in the public comments session.
The decreased enrollment among 2-5 year olds and potential consequences for this important age group.
The need to promote breastfeeding and nutrition education as a benefit of the program and recruitment tool and the need for it to be flexible and sufficiently convenient to fit in participants’ busy lives. The education component is a valuable distinguishing factor of WIC compared to other federal feeding programs, and millions of dollars in funding was recently committed to support WIC lactation and nutrition education programs such as peer counseling.
Flexibility in container sizes that are offered in WIC is an especially important topic as April 2016 marks the one year anniversary of yogurt being included in the WIC food package. Health professionals were encouraged by the addition of yogurt, but believe that there are still barriers to improving access, such as the limited package size options, as most states only allow 32 oz. instead of the most commonly preferred single-serve containers, and the limited substitution allowance of one quart per month. In its current review of the WIC Food Package, HMD has the opportunity to provide WIC participants improved access to healthy and nutrient dense foods such as yogurt, by encouraging
utilization of all package sizes and adding variety to offerings.
Yogurt can play a key role in improving the diet of WIC participants at critical life stages. According to the Phase I Report, WIC participants are lacking in key nutrients, and consume below the recommended intake of dairy. Yogurt can help close these nutrient gaps. Most yogurts contain nutrients lacking in the American diet, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Yogurt is also a source of high-quality protein, which, together with calcium and vitamin D, helps promote muscle and bone strength, and can be a good option for increasingly popular vegetarian and flexitarian diets. Those with lactose sensitivity often find yogurt to be an easier to digest dairy option due to live and active cultures, as well as lower lactose content on average than milk. Finally, fruits, vegetables and whole grains make great partners for yogurt, helping to build overall healthy dietary patterns.
Pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to age 5, are at key life stages in which nutrition plays a significant role in determining life-long health outcomes. Yogurt, being a nutrient-dense, child-friendly, versatile option, has the opportunity to play a role in helping improve the health outcomes for this vulnerable population.
Yvonne Bronner, ScD
One Yogurt Every Day Nutrition Advisor
One Yogurt Every Day Nutrition Advisors
Yvonne Bronner, ScD
Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN
Robert Murray, MD