USDA Proposes Science-Driven Updates to Foods Provided Through WIC
Proposed changes promote nutrition security and maternal and child health, increase flexibility for participants
Washington, Nov. 17, 2022 – USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is announcing proposed changes to the foods prescribed to participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. These science-based revisions incorporate recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
“USDA is committed to advancing maternal and child health through WIC, helping mothers, babies and young kids thrive,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes will strengthen WIC – already an incredibly powerful program – by ensuring it provides foods that reflect the latest nutrition science to support healthy eating and bright futures.”
The WIC food packages are specifically designed to supplement the foods and beverages participants already consume and fill in key nutritional gaps to support healthy growth and development. Food and Nutrition Service, or FNS, is proposing changes to align the food packages with the latest nutrition science and support equitable access to nutritious foods during critical life stages.
Taken collectively, the changes will increase the current level of assistance while providing WIC state agencies with more flexibility to tailor the packages to accommodate personal and cultural food preferences and special dietary needs and increase variety and choice for WIC participants, making the program more appealing for current and potential participants.
“For the more than 6 million moms, babies and young children who participate in WIC – and the millions more eligible to participate – these proposed revisions have the potential to make positive, life-long impacts on health and well-being,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services.
The proposed revisions support fruit and vegetable consumption by increasing the amount provided and the varieties available for purchase. Congress previously implemented a significant but temporary boost to the benefit provided to WIC participants for purchasing fruits and vegetables. FNS proposes making that increase permanent, providing participants with up to four times the amount they would otherwise receive. FNS also proposes revisions that give participants a greater variety of fruits and veggies to choose from and adjust the quantity of juice to reflect nutrition guidance, which emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables.
Other proposed changes include, but are not limited to:
- Expanding whole grain options to include foods like quinoa, blue cornmeal, and teff to reflect dietary guidance and accommodate individual or cultural preferences.
- Providing more non-dairy substitution options such as soy-based yogurts and cheeses – and requiring lactose-free milk to be offered.
- Including canned fish in more food packages, creating more equitable access to this under-consumed food.
- Requiring canned beans to be offered in addition to dried.
- Adding more flexibility in the amount of formula provided to partially breastfed infants to support individual breastfeeding goals.
These – and all of the proposed changes – are based on NASEM’s report, Review of WIC Food Packages: Improving Balance and Choice, and the latest edition of the dietary guidelines. Revisions are also informed by the FDA-EPA Advice about Eating Fish and feedback from WIC participants, state and tribal partners and other government agencies.
FNS encourages all interested parties to provide feedback on the proposed changes by visiting www.regulations.gov. The comment period will be open from Nov. 21, 2022 – Feb. 21, 2023.
WIC is one of the most powerful, evidence-based public health programs available, with a long history of improving health and developmental outcomes for children. Participants receive specialized nutrition, key resources – including nutrition education, breastfeeding support and immunization screening – and referrals to health and social services.
WIC is also uniquely positioned to reduce racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes. WIC participation rates are highest among WIC-eligible Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black individuals, and the previous updates to the WIC food packages were shown to help increase access to healthier foods for Hispanic and Latino WIC participants.
Given the program’s proven benefits, FNS is committed to modernizing WIC to maximize its impact throughout participants’ entire period of eligibility. The department recently announced several major investments to modernize WIC, support innovation, and help reach more mothers and young children. To learn more, visit the WIC Modernization & Innovation webpage.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service works to end hunger and improve food and nutrition security through a suite of more than 15 nutrition assistance programs, such as the school breakfast and lunch programs, WIC and SNAP. Together, these programs serve one in four Americans over the course of a year, promoting consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable food essential to optimal health and well being. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. FNS’s report, “Leveraging the White House Conference to Promote and Elevate Nutrition Security: The Role of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service,” highlights ways the agency will support the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy (PDF, 776 KB), released in conjunction with the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022. To learn more about FNS, visit www.fns.usda.gov and follow @USDANutrition.
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