Changing WIC Changes What Children Eat

In 2008, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) was updated to provide more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as low-fat or nonfat milk. New York was the first state to roll out the new package. At the same time, the state’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative encouraged breastfeeding among participating mothers, promoted physical activity, and provided strategies to reduce screen time among young children. This study assessed the impact of all of these changes two years after implementation.

Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, the New York State Department of Health, and Public Health Solutions, a New York-based nonprofit, analyzed cross-sectional data for infants and children through age 4. Analyses were conducted at six-month intervals from July-December 2008 through July-December 2011. More than 3.5 million participant records were included in the study. On average, more than 500,000 children were enrolled in WIC during each assessment period.

Key Findings:

  • The percentage of children ages 1-2 who were obese decreased by 6 percent.
  • The percentage of children ages 2-4 who were obese decreased by 2.7 percent.
  • Consumption of low-fat or nonfat milk increased 3 percent among children ages 2 to 4.
  • Participating children saw steady increases in daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • The percentage of mothers breastfeeding increased from 72.2 percent to 77.5 percent.
  • The percentage of children under two for whom parents reported no screen time increased by 33.3 percent.
  • The number of mothers waiting to feed infants solid foods until after four months of age increased by 4.1 percent.

According to the authors, the findings demonstrate a strong relationship between changes to the WIC program and improvements in participants’ dietary behaviors, screen time, and weight. Because WIC reaches nearly half of all infants born in the United States, continued exploration of these types of changes may result in improved well-being for thousands of young children.

More Research on WIC Changes

Corner stores, convenience stores, and bodegas in two lower-income North Philadelphia neighborhoods began carrying fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and other healthy foods after the WIC food package was changed.

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