WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals to more than 6 million women, infants, and children who are at nutritional risk. The program’s latest revisions will strengthen WIC food packages to better align with the science-based recommendations of the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

What is WIC? 

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federal nutrition program that currently provides food, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals for millions of families in the US. 

WIC is one of the most effective programs for improving access to nutritious foods with over 6 million women, infants, and children participating in the program. 

“WIC has a half-century track record of caring for young families. USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to ensuring that moms, babies, and young children continue to thrive through WIC,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a press release. 

How is WIC changing? 

On April 9, 2024, the USDA finalized a rule that will update and strengthen WIC food packages to better align with the latest science-based recommendations of both the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

More fruits and vegetables 

WIC participants will see a permanent increase in the overall benefits value that will allow more purchases of fruits and vegetables, and an expanded variety available for purchase. The revisions will make permanent the widely praised $15-$36 increase in fruits and vegetables allowance (depending on package type) that have been temporarily available to participants since October 2021. 

Higher fruit and vegetable issuance to WIC participants is critical for improving health outcomes and closing nutrition gaps. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of toddlers consume less than the recommended intake of vegetables, and about 40 percent consume less than the recommended intake of fruit. Pregnant and lactating people, on average, consume less than the recommended intake of total fruits and vegetables. When analyzing WIC-eligible populations, NASEM found that 100 percent of postpartum women, 99 percent of children, and 99 percent of pregnant women fall short of DGA-recommended vegetable intake. 

More whole grains

Now, 75 percent of approved cereals will list a whole grain as the first ingredient; for reference, the DGA recommends that at least half of the grains consumed in a day are whole grains. Participants will soon be able to choose from a wider variety of grains, including quinoa, wild rice, millet, triticale, amaranth, kamut, sorghum, wheat berries, tortillas with folic acid-fortified corn masa flour, corn meal (including blue), teff, buckwheat, and whole wheat pita, English muffins, bagels, and naan, allowing for culturally relevant choices and increased options for those with food sensitivities (like wheat allergy or celiac disease) that were not previously available. 

Introducing whole grains during childhood is critical as whole grain consumption boosts intake of priority nutrients like fiber and iron and is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. 

Changes to dairy options 

The new USDA rule allows only unflavored milk, and will, for the first time, set added sugars limits for yogurt and soy beverages. Participants will also have access to lactose-free options, and the new revision will allow flexibility on package sizes and non-dairy substitution options (like plant-based yogurt and cheese). 

Wider variety of proteins 

Canned fish will now be included in some WIC packages without a reduction in other proteins, like legumes or peanut butter. 

Seafood is an important source of protein and other nutrients like iron, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D that are a priority for the WIC population. The 2020 DGAs emphasized the benefits of seafood consumption for pregnant and breastfeeding women, noting the potential benefits to a child’s cognitive development. Women who are pregnant generally eat less than the recommended amount of seafood, while lactating women are generally in the lower range of recommendations. The USDA’s new rule will greatly expand access to seafood. 

Flexibility for cultural or dietary preferences 

Canned beans will also be made available to WIC participants, who were previously offered only dried beans and legumes. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and other pulses are high in protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins and low in fat. Eating beans and lentils as part of a healthy diet can help prevent chronic diseases, and expanded options make more plant-based proteins available to meet participants’ cultural or dietary preferences. 

This will help millions of women, infants, and children participating in the program get the nutrition they need while maintaining participant choice honoring cultural food preferences, and helping address barriers like limited cooking facilities, storage, and transportation. 

CSPI supports healthy kids and nutrition security 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a leading voice in healthy kids’ policies and programs, including healthier school foods, expanded healthy meal access, improvements to SNAP and WIC, safety reforms for infant formula and children’s foods, better restaurant meals for children, better enforcement of laws about marketing food products to children, and expanded fresh food options at common retailers like Dollar General

“Unlike other nutrition programs, WIC has a very specific charge to supplement the diets of women, infants, and children who are at nutritional risk. These changes to the food packages will make it easier for moms to get the nutrition they need and build healthy habits for life for their babies and children participating in WIC. We applaud the USDA today for doing right by moms and kids,” says CSPI Campaign Manager of Federal Child Nutrition Programs Meghan Maroney. 

How you can help

“Nutrition security,” or access to nutritious foods, does not yet have a standardized definition or measurement. Developing a way to track nutrition security and report on access to nutritious food in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can strengthen support for programs that provide fruit and vegetable incentives to people who shop with SNAP benefits and help us understand how to improve health and food access for people participating in the program. 

Support our effort to define and improve nutrition security: 

Tell Congress to support nutrition for people with low incomes

Support CSPI today

As a nonprofit organization that takes no donations from industry or government, CSPI relies on the support of donors to continue our work in securing a safe, nutritious, and transparent food system. Every donation—no matter how small—helps CSPI continue improving food access, removing harmful additives, strengthening food safety, conducting and reviewing research, and reforming food labeling. 

Please support CSPI today, and consider contributing monthly. Thank you.


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