A new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies proposes a number of changes to the WIC nutrition assistance program to encourage participants to consume more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as to promote breast-feeding, among other goals. If implemented, these revisions would be the most substantial changes to the mix of foods offered through WIC since the supplemental nutrition program for low-income women, infants, and children was launched in 1974. The recommendations also are the first effort to apply the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans to a national food program.
"Because scientific knowledge about nutrition has greatly increased since the WIC programs inception, and the nutritional challenges facing families have altered significantly, it is definitely time for a change in the foods offered through WIC," said Suzanne P. Murphy, chair of the committee that wrote the report and research professor, Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Honolulu. "We now know much more about the links between nutrition and chronic diseases, plus the nation is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Our proposed revisions would bring the foods provided through WIC up to date with current nutritional science and make it easier for participants to improve their diets and health."
WIC -- shorthand for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- is one of the largest nutrition programs in the United States. In 2000 the WIC program served about half of all U.S. infants and about a quarter of children ages 1 through 4, along with many of their mothers. The costs of providing supplemental food packages as well as nutrition education, breast-feeding support, and other assistance to 7.6 million participants a month totaled $4.7 billion in 2003. In many localities, food "packages" are actually itemized vouchers or checks that participants use to obtain specific foods at participating grocery outlets. The packages have remained largely unchanged since the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated the program 30 years ago.
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