Improved WIC nutrition reduces obesity risk among young kids, study says

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: WIC, Food for kids, Obesity

Improved nutritional standards of The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) have been effective in reducing obesity risk in four-year-olds, according to a new study.

Researchers from Tulane and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health worked with Los Angeles-based PHFE WIC, a program of Heluna Health, to examine health and population data from more than 180,000 children served by the WIC program in Los Angeles County where over half of all children under the age of five are enrolled in WIC. 

Updates to the WIC food packaging, which were implemented in 2009 based on 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines, included nutritional improvements and more WIC-eligible products such as whole grain breads and cereal, as well as more fruits and vegetables. The final rule included a more than 30% increase in the dollar amount for fruit and vegetable purchases for children, fresh infant food (instead of jarred), and yogurt as a partial milk substitute. For more details on the updated nutritional requirements for WIC-approved food CLICK HERE​. 

More brands are making parts of their portfolio WIC-approved such as HPP fresh baby food brand Once Upon a Farm. Last month, the brand made its 2-pack fresh baby food bowls WIC-eligible.

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The study​ examined data from 2003-2016 for four groups of children: those receiving a full-dose (i.e. participating in WIC continuously from birth to age four) of the new food packaging with improved nutritional standards; those receiving a full-dose of food under the old food packaging reflecting past nutritional requirements; those receiving a late-dose (i.e. joining WIC at age two and participating until age four) of the new food packaging; and those receiving a late-dose of the old food packaging.

Early nutrition intervention

"Our study shows that improving nutrition quality made a measurable impact in lowering obesity risk for children receiving the new food package compared to those receiving the old,"​ said lead author Pia Chaparro, assistant professor of nutrition at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. 

"Our results suggest that changes in children's diet early in life could have a positive effect on their growth and reduce obesity risk, which could be informative for policymakers considering further improvements to the WIC program."

Children receiving a full dose of the new food package had healthier growth trajectories and lower obesity risk at age four than children receiving a full dose of the old food package, according to the study. Obesity risk was 12% lower for boys and 10% lower for girls compared to four-year-olds who received the full dose of the old food package.

When researchers examined growth trajectories between the two groups, they noticed the sharpest differences began to develop at six months of age. 

"The beneficial effect of being exposed to the new food package, compared to the old one, was much stronger during the six months to 1-year age interval, and this difference between the two groups during this age interval was large enough to set children in the new food package group on a healthier growth trajectory through age 4,"​ Chaparro said.

Of those who joined the WIC program at the age of two, researchers found an 11% lower obesity risk for boys receiving the updated WIC packaging but no reduced risk for girls. 

How is the kids' food and beverage industry addressing childhood obesity? Find out at FoodNavigator-USA's FOOD FOR KIDS summit being held in Chicago this November 18-20. Reserve your place today by registering HERE​!

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