WIC Revamps Food Choices for First Time in Nearly 35 Years

Whole Grains, Fruit, Vegetables, Tofu, Brown Rice Among New Items for Feeding Program for Pregnant and Postpartum Women and Their Children Under 5

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 6, 2009) - New York has become the first state in the nation to revamp its WIC nutrition program to reflect the latest science on healthy diets and address obesity. This is the first major change in food offerings to low-income women, infants and children in 35 years, and will offer whole grains, low-fat milk, fruits and vegetables.

Since 1974, the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has combated childhood hunger, low birth weight, under-nutrition, and iron deficiency anemia so that WIC participants have better health outcomes. However, the foods provided by WIC for more than a half-million New Yorkers have not changed significantly since its inception in 1974 – despite new dietary recommendations to eat less fat, more fiber, fewer overall calories, fewer sweetened beverages and more vegetables and fruits.

"Over the past three years, the Health Department has conducted programs that showed that WIC mothers will buy fruits and vegetables when they are available," Governor David A. Paterson said. "Almost one-third of our children are overweight or obese, with higher rates among black and Hispanic children. WIC has a long history of success, and is a great place for nutrition education to start."

"This change is coming at a time when childhood obesity is one of our greatest public health challenges, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said. "New York's WIC transformation makes it one of the best tools to improve the health of our most vulnerable citizens' health and reduce their risk of chronic diseases by supporting healthy lifestyles beginning in pregnancy and early childhood."

New foods available to WIC are whole grain cereals, whole grain breads, canned or dried beans, brown rice and tofu as available options, jarred baby foods, and cash-value checks for vegetables and fruits. Among the changes are:

  • Low- or non-fat milk only. All women and children over the age of 2 now have a choice of non-fat (skim) or low-fat (1 percent) milk.  Whole milk will only be issued to children who are between 12 and 24 months of age.  These changes reflect WIC's commitment to obesity prevention and provide a consistent message about healthy eating.
  • Vegetables and fruits added. All women and children (2-5 years old) will be able to purchase fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits.
  • Juice amounts adjusted. All women and children will receive an adjusted food prescription to reflect a recommended daily juice intake of approximately four ounces per day.  Juice for infants will be eliminated at a later date. Excessive juice intake has been strongly associated with overweight and obesity in the preschool child population.

For six months, New York's version of the federal WIC program has been phasing in some new components, such as switching from whole milk to low-fat or fat-free milk, and making WIC checks available for vegetables and fruit year round.

New York State's WIC program has tested since 2006 whether WIC mothers would purchase fruits and vegetables when given a $5 monthly voucher just for that purpose. "Our WIC staff tested a healthier eating program to see how it would work in a diverse state like New York, where we have differing vendors and multiple ethnicities participating," Commissioner Daines said. "When we began our produce vouchers, we found that 85 percent of them were used – and 70 percent were used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, not canned or frozen."

Staff from the State Department of Health's Division of Nutrition have made presentations on New York's program before the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at National WIC Association meetings and similar national meetings; most recently, they have presented to other states how New York trained WIC mothers to weigh and cook fresh produce, and offered vendor training on stocking produce within limited space.

In total, the new WIC foods are lower in fat and higher in fiber, and some substitutions are available to meet cultural preferences, with more options possible in the future. These changes will help families meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Healthy People 2010 Objectives set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for infants.

WIC will also continue to promote successful, long-term breastfeeding of infants up to age 12 months. WIC offers an additional incentive to breastfeeding mothers' food packages, providing them with the highest amount of food and special support and nutritional services because breastfeeding is considered by the health care community to be the best way to provide nutrition to infants.

"Because New York State's WIC program is a national leader in nutrition innovation, we are confident that the needs of our over 500,000 WIC participants will be met, with nutritious food reflecting our wide variations in race, ethnicity and shopping venues," Commissioner Daines said.

All states must implement the new WIC food package by October 2010, so New York's early step into the new program will allow the federal administering agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and all other state WIC programs to follow New York's progress before widespread national implementation occurs.

The NYS WIC Program has also reformed and improved nutrition counseling provided and incorporated physical activity into its program to promote healthy lifestyles.

For more information on the WIC changes, please visit http://www.nyhealth.gov/prevention/nutrition/wic/