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WIC Updates Improve Nutrition Security for Program Participants, Closely Align with Dietary Guidelines

Published April 11, 2024

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will now align more closely with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and allow food options to meet participants’ dietary needs and choices according to culture, religion, preference, allergies, and/or living situations. The Academy voiced support in the rule-making process for the increased access to healthful foods for women, babies, children and their families made possible in the final rule, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 9, 2024.

In its advocacy efforts, the Academy supported recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that are reflected in the food packages update, including:

  • Permanent cash value benefits that increase amounts and choices of fruits and vegetables that are critical to improve health outcomes and intake disparities that disproportionately impact families with low incomes
  • Increased flexibility of food choices by allowing both dried and canned legumes, and allowing states to offer other nut and seed butters as a peanut butter substitution
  • Availability of canned fish in all food packages
  • Substitution option of yogurt and cheese or soy-based yogurts, cheeses and tofu for milk and/or eggs
  • Decreased fruit juice and milk amounts in monthly food packages, that continued to meet more than one-half to all of participants’ nutrition needs for priority nutrients such as calcium

In addition, the new rule limits added sugars in breakfast cereals, yogurt and plant-based milk alternatives.

This WIC update also includes changes to support individuals who breastfeed, allowing flexibilities in infant formula quantities and food packages for those who use both options to provide nourishment for their babies.

“The changes announced in the updated food packages will help ensure that pregnant women, mothers, babies and children have access to foods with important nutrients to improve diet quality while acknowledging cultural food preferences and customs,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Lauri Wright, the 2023-2024 President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As the Academy submitted in written comments to USDA, “While balancing the food packages to meet nutrient needs will depart from cost neutrality, the Academy believes that the increased investment in mothers and children is worthwhile and necessary, and that costs incurred from these changes will offset potential health care costs in the long run. These revisions protect the most vulnerable infants and children in our nation by reducing the burden of chronic diseases and allowing them to thrive.”

Increased fruit and vegetable amounts will go into effect by June 9. State agencies that implement the WIC program will have up to two years to make the necessary administrative, infrastructure and technology changes and fully implement the rules. The USDA will provide information and technical assistance, as well as work with partnering organizations including the Academy, to make the transition a success.

Academy members interested in learning more about this issue and other nutrition security efforts are encouraged to join the monthly meetings of the Nutrition Security Affinity Group.

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