The California Department of Public Health today announced that the California Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program will expand the diversity of nutritious foods offered to program participants starting today. This is the first major change to the foods that WIC provides since the program began in 1974.
“Making nutritious choices available to the women, infants and children who participate in the WIC program in California encourages healthier choices and habits,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Nutrition and exercise have always been a huge part of my life and as Governor, I do everything I can to make sure that California is a leader in promoting health and nutrition.”
WIC participants will now receive fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread and grains and other expanded options in addition to milk, cheese, eggs and other foods that have always been offered.
“Eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and choosing low-fat dairy and protein foods are key steps to protecting our health and reducing the prevalence of obesity,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health. “The 1.5 million women, infants and children who participate in WIC in California will now be able to more easily access fresh fruits and vegetables and other items that are critical to the health and well being of California families.”
The new WIC options emphasize reduced-fat dairy products and include tofu and soy beverage as an alternative to milk. There is also greater variety in the WIC offerings to accommodate the cultural food preferences of WIC participants.
“California’s population is one of the most diverse in the nation,” Horton said. "The addition of healthy foods that are also culturally varied allows WIC participants to select healthy choices that are consistent with their cultural food preferences.”
Foods are provided to WIC participants through federally funded checks that families use at one of 4,700 WIC-authorized grocers statewide. WIC purchases amount to more than $80 million of food sales in California grocery stores each month.
“With the new change, we expect to see a significant increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables purchased in California grocery stores,” said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “The mothers and kids who participate in this program are the biggest beneficiaries, but California’s farmers benefit too.”
Many retailers authorized to participate in the WIC program are in low-income communities. The revision to the WIC food options means that some stores that did not previously sell fresh fruits and vegetables and other items will now expand their offerings to be compliant with the WIC requirements. The availability of these expanded, healthy options will not only benefit WIC participants, but everyone who shops at retail stores authorized to accept WIC.
The federal WIC program made the revisions to the WIC food package in an effort to align the WIC food offerings with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The food packages provide WIC participants with a wider variety of healthy foods.
In preparation for the change, the California WIC Program launched a nutrition education campaign last year that has been teaching smart shopping and cooking skills to help families purchase and prepare the new food items. The campaign includes family-friendly messages such as Eat a Rainbow of Fruits and Vegetables; Make Half Your Grains Whole; and Lose the Fat, Keep the Vitamins … Drink Low-Fat Milk.
WIC is a federally funded program that provides nutrition and food assistance services to low-income families with pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, infants and children up to the age of five who are at nutritional risk. Program services include nutrition counseling and classes, breastfeeding promotion and support, referrals to health and social services and food checks that can be used to buy specific foods.
WIC checks can be redeemed at any of the 4,700 grocery stores statewide that have entered into agreements with the WIC program. The checks are valid for use for a 30 day period and are payable for a specific type and quantity of food. The retail value of the food checks is about $60.00 per month per participant.
Each month, WIC serves more than 1.5 million participants statewide. Sixty percent of all infants born in California participate in WIC.
For additional information, visit the California WIC program.