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Federal Nutrition Program Changes and Healthy Food Availability

      Background

      Literature on food environments is expanding rapidly, yet a gap exists regarding the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) on healthy food availability. In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised the WIC food package, requiring certified stores to stock fresh produce, whole grains, and lower-fat milk.

      Purpose

      The goal of this study is to compare availability of foods in stores that are versus those that are not WIC-certified before and after the policy change.

      Methods

      Store inventories were collected in 45 corner stores in Hartford CT with four inventories each (180 total inventories) from January 2009 to January 2010. Data on availability and variety of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat milk were recorded. Analyses were completed in 2012 using Fisher's exact test, chi-square, and t-tests for descriptive analyses and multilevel models to measure food availability longitudinally (significance at p<0.05).

      Results

      Controlling for covariates, WIC-certified vendors carried more varieties of fresh fruit (p<0.01); a greater proportion of lower-fat milk (p<0.01); and had greater availability of whole grain bread (p<0.01) and brown rice (p<0.05) than vendors without WIC authorization after the policy change. Conversely, for all outcomes, stores without WIC authorization did not significantly increase healthy food availability.

      Conclusions

      The 2009 WIC revisions increased availability of healthy foods among WIC-certified vendors compared to those without WIC authorization in Hartford CT. For many residents without a car, these changes can create a convenient shopping location for healthy foods when a larger supermarket is not nearby.
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      Linked Article

      • Carrots, Sticks, or Carrot Sticks?: Using Federal Food Policy to Engineer Dietary Change
        American Journal of Preventive MedicineVol. 43Issue 4
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          In this issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, three descriptive research articles1–3 explore mechanisms by which federal food policy can influence the availability of foods and food purchase behaviors, in the directions emphasized in the Dietary Guidelines. In the article by Andreyeva and colleagues,1 the focus is on the proportion of money spent on beverages among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and non-SNAP participants from a single supermarket chain. In a sample of young, low-income families that had participated in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) the previous year, the authors identified that the subset who were also SNAP participants purchased a significantly higher percentage of sugar-sweetened beverages, compared to non-SNAP participants.
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