Recent news on the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC)
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has been providing healthy food, breastfeeding support, referrals to health and social services, and nutrition education to income qualified families in the USA with nutritional needs for over 40 years. Administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WIC serves around 7 million lowincome women, infants, and children aged between 1 and 5 years old. WIC is the nation’s premier public health nutrition program.
WIC’s food package is a cornerstone of the program. The foods prescribed are individually tailored to the nutritional needs of the participant and support healthy growth and development. The WIC food package includes items such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, peanut butter, legumes, canned fish and whole grains. WIC participants receive their healthy food prescription on either an electronic benefit card or paper voucher along with a cash value voucher (CVV) that can be spent exclusively on fruit and vegetables.
WIC’s food package is reviewed at least every 10 years as mandated by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (2010) to ensure it’s based on the most current scientific evidence, aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and is culturally appropriate to the families WIC serves. In January 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) published a tenyear review of the WIC food package and recommended changes to enhance balance and choice for WIC participants. A key feature of the recommendations is increasing the amount of vegetables and fruit that families can access through WIC.
As the non-profit education arm and advocacy voice of the WIC program, both mothers and young children served by WIC, and the 12,000 service provider Agencies who are the front lines of WIC’s public health nutrition services, National WIC Association (NWA) works to assure and support policies that mandate a healthy, culturally sensitive food package. One way NWA accomplishes this is through effecting legislative policies adopted during the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) legislative process. NWA’s current key CNR priorities include, among other, the implementation of pilot projects that enhance the CVV by increasing the CVV value and permitting substitutions of other food package items – including juice and jarred fruit and vegetables – with additional CVV benefit.
As well as recommending changes to the food package, NASEM also offered recommendations for future research. Methodologically rigorous qualitative and quantitative research studies are essential to document WIC’s impact and identify areas for improvement. It is imperative that researchers continue to conduct independent studies analyzing various aspects of the program, particularly as it relates to the value, shape, form, and content of the food package. Without qualitative research, WIC’s continued successes cannot be assured. We are pleased to share with you three articles that further demonstrate the importance of research as a tool to continuously reflect on how WIC participants utilize their WIC food benefits.