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WIC Recipients Buying More Fresh Fruits and Vegetables


For low-income families, a well-designed food assistance program can mean the difference between a healthy and unhealthy lifestyle.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, was overhauled in 2009 with that idea in mind. New research from our friends at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity finds that the strategy is paying off, as purchases of fruits and vegetables among recipients is on the rise.

“Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in low-income women and young children was one of the key goals in revising the WIC food packages,” said Tatiana Andreyeva, the Rudd Center’s director of economic initiatives and the study’s lead author. “This study shows that the revisions were successful and necessary, given the inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption in vulnerable populations.”

The study is the first to measure the impact of WIC revisions on fruit and vegetable purchases. It is part of an ongoing series of studies from the Rudd Center tracking WIC recipients’ purchases in several areas since the revisions.

Before the changes to the program, participants could use their benefits to buy 100% fruit juice, but not fresh fruit, and the only WIC-eligible vegetables were dried beans and peas (breastfeeding women could also buy fresh or canned carrots).

The new rules, implemented throughout the United States by the fall of 2009, added vouchers that families could use to buy fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables without added fats or sugars.

To see the effects of the WIC changes, researchers Andreyeva and Joerg Luedicke looked at purchases made at a New England grocery chain’s stores in two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts. They tracked how much fruit and vegetables families using WIC benefits bought over the same period in 2009 and 2010.

During that time, purchases of fresh fruit increased by 29 percent, which translates to an extra kilogram of fresh fruit per household each month. Purchases of fresh vegetables increased by almost 18 percent, while frozen vegetables jumped up to nearly 28 percent.

The study reinforces some of the Rudd Center researchers’ previous findings about how the improvements to the WIC program have paid off.

One Rudd study released last fall found that WIC families had significantly increased their consumption of brown rice and whole-grain bread, while another found that purchases of whole milk and cheese decreased after WIC’s dairy allowances were revamped with the goal of reducing participants’ consumption of saturated fat. And a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that purchases of juice went down, too.

Donna Brutkoski authored this report.