The WIC program, standing for Women, Infants and Children, is a government-funded program designed to give kids the best start possible. It was created in 1974 to afford pregnant women and women with infants and young children the opportunity to afford healthy food no matter their income. A segment of the WIC program called Special Supplemental Nutrition is finally getting an overhaul in order to cover more vegetables and expand other healthy food choices. It seems odd that such a program has not been revised in so long or previously offered these options, but that oversight is now being addressed.
More than half of infants born in the U.S. are served by WIC. In the program, mothers can offer vouchers rather than cash or check to pay for grocery items. In the past, WIC covered food items that had in 1974 been considered necessary supplements to the nutritional needs of pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age five, as well as for women who did not breastfeed but had just given birth. WIC especially focuses on the needs of low-income women, and on nutritional education of these groups.
Nutritional guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for infants and young children have altered since the inception of the WIC program. In 2005, new guidelines were published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The program was in need of an overhaul.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture started adding changes to the WIC program to bring the allowable food choices more in line with these guidelines. The new list was in place in 2007 on a trial basis. This interim list allowed time for the new guidelines to be tried and results to be observed, as well as to afford WIC users time to comment on the new program offerings.
Public comment was taken on the revisions until 2010. The changes have shown positive results and thus the new version of WIC is “in clearance” to become officially added as a permanent part of the WIC list of allowable foods.
The new WIC guidelines take effect next year. The benefit now covers fresh vegetables as well as canned and frozen entries. It also allows the purchase of yogurts and whole grain breads and pastas, as well as a tofu option for vegetarians. The yogurt and tofu options are meant to give alternatives to the milk choice on the vouchers. The idea is that WIC will finally cover more fruit and vegetable choices as well as other foods now deemed healthy in recent studies.
Acceptable foods to be purchased with WIC vouchers are still restricted in order to ensure that users purchase the healthiest options available with the program. What this means for the WIC shopper is that whole grain bread is allowed, but not breads with a potato component, since the program is meant to supplement incomes, and white potatoes are a food that is already easy to afford. This move was objected to strenuously by the potato industry, but the Department of Agriculture maintains that WIC is focused on more nutritious food items for less money, specifically on the food items these mothers would not normally be able to provide on a budget.
The increase in value for vouchers used to purchase vegetables means that not only will buying vegetables with WIC be easier, but fruit and vegetable options can take the place of infant food bought in jars for mothers who wish to switch older babies off of infant food. The revisions also address foods with lower saturated fats, less fruit juices in infant foods and the addition of more canned fish products.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) cites the WIC program as contributing to the reduction of obesity in pre-school and kindergarten-aged children, which has gone down by six percent in recent years. The supplemental program is currently being used by up to nine million people annually. These WIC-users are expected to laud the permanent addition of these changes, which finally cover vegetable and fruit selections for toddlers and give more healthy food options to low-income mothers.
By Kat Turner
El Paso Times