In 2009 the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which promotes the health and nutrition of low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under 5 years old, updated the food packages provided to participants.  Updated WIC food packages emphasized balancing adequate nutrient and food group intakes with reducing obesity risk. Important changes included removing juice and adding baby-food fruit and vegetable options to the infant food packages.  Other changes included reducing the amounts of juice, adding whole-grain products and a cash-value benefit to purchase fruits, vegetables, and changing from whole milk to low- or nonfat milk for children 2 years of age and older. Yet, information as to the impact of these food package revisions on infant and children feeding practices is limited.  

To examine the association between WIC package changes and diet quality, Joanne Guthrie (Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture) and colleagues used data from the 2008 and 2016 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, a large, nationwide survey that examined dietary behaviors of infants and children. The study data included 2892 children 6-47.9 months of age in 2008 and 2635 in 2016.  Differences were analyzed by WIC participation, survey year, and child age.

Study results published in The Journal of Nutrition showed positive trends associated with changes in nutrient intakes and food consumption patterns of infants and children WIC participants. In 2016, nearly 19% of infants had iron intakes below the estimated average requirement, defined as a nutrient intake value estimated to meet age-specific requirements of half the healthy individuals, compared to 7.6% in 2008. Whereas 87% of WIC infants met the estimated average requirement for iron, 69% of non-WIC infants did not. WIC infants were more likely to consume infant cereals, a good source of iron provided by their WIC food package.  More WIC infants than non-WIC infants ate vegetables daily in 2016 than in 2008. In 2016, as compared with 2008, more WIC infants consumed baby-food vegetables and fruits. In 2016, 47% of WIC preschoolers drank low-fat milk, compared with 19% of non-WIC preschoolers.

These and other findings provide important information on changes in dietary intakes in the past decade and offer insight into the extent to which the changes in WIC food packages are associated with improvements in the diets and health of low-income, vulnerable infants and young children.  Recommendations to meet the dietary guidance goals include increased intake of fruits, vegetables, iron-rich foods, and whole grains and a reduction of added sugars.

Reference Guthrie JF, Anater AS, Hampton JC, Catellier DJ, Eldridge AL, Johnson WL, Quann EE. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is Associated with Several Changes in Nutrient Intakes and Food Consumption Patterns of Participating Infants and Young Children, 2008 Compared with 2016. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 11, November 2020, Pages 2985–2993,

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