A recent review of the nation’s federal food subsidy program known as WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), found that healthy foods took precedent for recipients of the program when healthier eating was encouraged.
Starting in 2009, the USDA, which oversees the WIC program, began to include vouchers with the program that promoted increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, as well as discouraging consumption of foods high in sugar, cholesterol, and saturated fat.
Researchers looked at the shopping habits of more than 2,100 households in Connecticut and Massachusetts that relied on WIC for assistance with grocery purchases--about half of those households also received support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the food stamps program.
“The program restricted the amount of reduced-fat milk, cheese and juice recipients could buy, and eliminated whole milk from the program, reports the New York Times. “If WIC users wanted to purchase foods not on the list, they had to use their own money, rather than the WIC vouchers or cards.”
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The efforts appeared to be effective; total food purchases—including those WIC recipients bought with their own money versus food stamps—were healthier.
“A year after the changes took effect, the amount of sugary and other unhealthful drinks purchased by beneficiaries dropped by nearly 25 percent, while purchases of foods made from whole grains and fruits and vegetables went up by about 5 percent,” the Times explains.
“Overall, lower-income families were buying more healthful food as a result of the changes the government made,” Tatiana Andreyeva, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut and director of economic initiatives at the Rudd Center told the Times. “There’s always so much skepticism about any government initiative, but here, not only did it work, it didn’t cost us any extra money.”
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