The Impact of WIC Food Package Changes on Access to Healthful Food in 2 Low-Income Urban Neighborhoods

In 2009, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) began to include fruit and vegetables, whole grains and 2 percent milk.

The federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides 9 million low-income, pregnant and nursing women and young children, with food essential for growth and development.

In Philadelphia, nearly 500 stores are authorized to redeem WIC vouchers, including chain supermarkets, mid-sized grocers and small “mom-and-pop” stores. This study, researchers sought to determine if WIC package changes increased the availability of healthful food in these stores.

These researchers chose to study non-WIC and WIC-authorized stores in two North Philadelphia neighborhoods; one predominantly African American and one majority Hispanic. They used a modified Nutrition Environment Measure Survey for Stores (NEMS-S) to identify availability of healthful food items before and after (2009 and 2010) WIC package changes.

Key Findings:

  • The study found improvements in availability of 2% milk (50% versus 77%), whole grain bread (33% versus 52%), and brown rice (25% versus 55%).
  • Vegetable varieties increased from an average per store of 7.8 to 9.7.
  • Improvements also were seen in pricing of healthful foods. However, one-quarter of fruits and vegetables for sale were of unacceptable quality.