FNS is recommending science-based updates to the food provided to WIC participants to best meet their nutritional needs and foster healthy growth and development.
- What are the WIC food packages?
The WIC food packages are made up of foods and beverages that supplement what participants already consume to provide a balanced and nutritious diet that supports healthy growth and development. Participants are prescribed one of seven types of food packages based on life stage, breastfeeding status, and special dietary needs. They then use their WIC benefits to buy the food and beverages in their package.
- What does it mean that the food packages are supplemental?
The WIC food packages are designed to provide specific foods and beverages to fill in nutritional gaps in participants’ diets. By law, the packages are not intended to provide all of the foods and beverages a participant needs for a complete diet; rather, they build on what participants already eat and drink to provide a balanced and nutritious diet that supports healthy growth and development.
- Why is FNS revising the WIC food packages?
By law, USDA is required to conduct a comprehensive scientific review of the WIC food packages at least every ten years and update them, as needed, to reflect nutrition science, public health concerns, and cultural eating patterns. The last updates to the WIC food packages were in 2014. Since that time, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, or NASEM, published a report with recommendations for updating the WIC food packages. FNS also published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, or DGA, which included specific recommendations for women who are pregnant, infants, and children under age 2 years. FNS is committed to ensuring all its programs – including WIC – are informed by current nutrition science, and updating the WIC food packages is an important part of fulfilling that commitment.
- How did FNS develop the proposed revisions?
FNS policy experts considered several factors in developing the proposed revisions:
- Science-based recommendations from NASEM based on an independent review of the current WIC food packages and of the nutritional needs of those eligible for WIC.
- The 2020-2025 DGA, which included new recommendations specifically for women who are pregnant, infants, and children under age 2 years.
- The intent of the food packages, which are supplemental and designed to fill in key nutritional gaps.
- Information in the FDA-EPA’s 2021 Advice about Eating Fish.
- Feedback from WIC participants, state and tribal partners, and other government agencies.
- What changes are being proposed?
The proposed changes are designed to align the food packages with the latest nutrition science, provide greater variety and a better balance of foods and nutrients, and support equitable access to nutritious foods during critical life stages. For example, the proposed updates:
- Encourage fruit and vegetable consumption by increasing both the amount provided and the variety available to choose from.
- Provide greater flexibility to accommodate participants’ personal and cultural food preferences and special dietary needs, such as expanding whole grain options and providing more non-dairy substitution options for milk.
- Strengthen support for mothers’ individual breastfeeding goals, such as adding more flexibility to the amount of formula provided.
- Add canned fish to more food packages, creating more equitable access to this under-consumed food.
Additional changes are summarized in the chart in the proposed rule.
- How would these changes benefit participants?
With over 6 million women, infants, and children participating in WIC – and millions more eligible to participate – any changes we can make to better support their health will result in meaningful, long-lasting impacts for children and families. The proposed changes to the WIC food packages build on the revisions made in 2014, which were shown to have a positive impact on participants. Those changes have been associated with improved diet quality, better availability of healthy foods and beverages, and lower risk of overweight and obesity among children. This new set of proposed changes allows for greater tailoring of food packages to accommodate participants’ special dietary needs and personal and cultural food preferences. They also provide more equitable access to supplemental foods and support individual breastfeeding goals. Collectively, these changes not only align with the latest science to best support nutritional needs but are also designed to make the program more appealing to participants so that more women, infants, and children can tap into all the proven benefits of WIC.
- How do the proposed changes support breastfeeding?
The proposed changes strengthen support for moms and babies across a wider range of breastfeeding options so that breastfeeding is not an all or nothing choice. The proposed rule creates a separate and enhanced food package specifically for mothers who are mostly, but not exclusively, breastfeeding to align with their higher calorie needs. The rule also proposes adding canned fish and higher benefits for purchasing fruits and vegetables to all breastfeeding food packages, providing important nutrients that individuals who are breastfeeding need. The proposed rule also adds flexibility to the amount of formula provided for partially breastfed infants to better support individual breastfeeding goals.
- How do the proposed changes encourage fruits and vegetables?
The proposed updates encourage fruit and vegetable consumption by increasing both the amount provided and the variety available to choose from. With temporary authority from Congress, WIC currently provides a $25 benefit for purchasing fruits and vegetables to child participants, $44 to pregnant and postpartum participants, and $49 to mostly and fully breastfeeding participants. This temporary increase has helped WIC families afford more fruits and vegetables, which are full of essential nutrients. FNS proposes making this higher fruit and vegetable benefit – also recommended by NASEM – permanent, with annual adjustments for inflation. This would provide children with more than double what they would otherwise receive and women with up to four times the previous amount.
- How do the proposed changes support those with food allergies or intolerances, cultural or personal preferences, and special dietary needs?
The proposed changes provide additional flexibility, variety, and choice for WIC-administering agencies and participants. These changes build on current accommodations for cultural and personal preferences, as well as for individuals with special dietary needs due to medical conditions or limited cooking and/or storage facilities, while still ensuring WIC participants receive the nutrients they need. Just a few of these proposed changes include:
- Adding more non-dairy substitution options for milk, such as soy-based cheese, and requiring lactose-free milk to be offered.
- Expanding whole grain options to include foods like quinoa, teff, wild rice, millet, corn meal (including blue), and whole wheat naan, which support wider personal and cultural food preferences and can accommodate wheat allergies.
- Significantly increasing the value of the fruit and vegetable benefit, giving participants greater ability to choose items they prefer. Also, lowering the age at which participants can substitute infant foods in their package with the fruit and vegetable benefit.
Additional changes are summarized in the chart in the proposed rule.
- Why do the proposed changes reduce the amount of juice provided?
WIC is designed to supplement participants’ diets to give babies, young kids, and moms the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. It’s a science-based program that takes into consideration what participants already eat and drink and fills in the nutritional gaps. Research shows that participants are already getting enough juice in their diet, so the proposed changes are meant to focus on the nutrients that they’re lacking.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize whole fruits and vegetables. Juice is also lower in fiber, a key nutrient that is widely under-consumed. The current food packages provide more than 100% of the recommended limit for juice as part of a healthy diet. Therefore, consistent with NASEM’s recommendations, FNS is proposing a reduction in the amount of juice provided and a significant increase to the benefit used to purchase fruits and vegetables to provide a better balance as recommended by nutrition science.
- Why do the proposed changes reduce the amount of milk provided?
Milk contains important nutrients. However, the current food packages provide milk in amounts of up to 128% of the recommended daily amount of dairy. Therefore, NASEM recommends a modest reduction to the amount of milk in the packages, while still providing it in amounts between 71-96% of the recommended amount of dairy, and the proposed rule includes this change. This reflects the supplemental nature of the program and would ensure the packages provide a better balance of food and nutrients as recommended by nutrition science.
- Why do the proposed changes eliminate cheese from the fully breastfeeding participants food package?
Currently, cheese is a separate category only in the food package for fully breastfeeding participants. As recommended by NASEM and aligned with the dietary guidelines’ recommendations, the proposed rule would remove it as a separate category, but it would continue to be a substitution option for milk in all of the children and women’s food packages. Therefore, fully breastfeeding participants would still be able to purchase cheese as part of their package.
- Why do the proposed changes require cereals to be whole grain?
The latest dietary guidelines noted that nearly all Americans – 98% – do not meet recommendations for whole grain intake. In their 2017 report, NASEM recommended all cereals provided through WIC meet the whole grain criteria (i.e., whole grain as the first ingredient) to better support the nutritional needs of WIC participants. The proposed rule includes that recommendation. Many cereals – including several corn-based cereals – meet the whole grain criteria and would be available for purchase through WIC.
- How can I offer feedback on the proposed changes to the WIC food packages
FNS is seeking robust feedback from diverse perspectives to inform the final rule and ensure the next iteration of food packages best serves WIC participants. Make sure your voice is heard by submitting your comments in writing via regulations.gov or other methods no later than February 21, 2023. Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted via:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
- Regular U.S. Mail: WIC Administration, Benefits, and Certification Branch, Policy Division, Food and Nutrition Service, P.O. Box 2885, Fairfax, Virginia 22031-0885.
- Overnight, courier, or hand delivery: Allison Post, WIC Administration, Benefits, and Certification Branch, Policy Division, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, Virginia 22314.
- Is FNS doing anything to make sure the items in the WIC food packages can be found in stores?
Given the program’s proven benefits, FNS is committed to modernizing WIC to maximize its impact throughout participants’ entire period of eligibility. We know that the WIC shopping experience has been noted as a pain point for participants, and we are excited to support state and local efforts to improve. FNS recently announced a new grant opportunity, which will provide up to $50 million to WIC-administering agencies to innovate on solutions to improve the shopping experience.
- Can WIC participants use their benefits online?
While not part of this proposed rule on the WIC food packages, online shopping is something that FNS is actively working on. Giving WIC families the ability to shop for food online not only makes participating in WIC easier, but also advances nutrition security by ensuring that WIC participants have equitable access to nutritious foods. FNS funded a cooperative agreement with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to develop and test WIC online shopping projects. In turn, Gretchen Swanson awarded sub-grants to support eight WIC state agencies working toward online shopping. Best practices and lessons learned from these sub-grant projects will be documented and shared. FNS is also working on rulemaking to address barriers to online ordering in WIC.