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Federal Nutrition Program Revisions Impact Low-income Households’ Food Purchases

      Introduction

      The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) required major revisions to food packages in 2009; effects on nationwide low-income household purchases remain unexamined.

      Methods

      This study examines associations between WIC revisions and nutritional profiles of packaged food purchases from 2008 to 2014 among 4,537 low-income households with preschoolers in the U.S. (WIC participating versus nonparticipating) utilizing Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel data. Overall nutrients purchased (e.g., calories, sugar, fat), amounts of select food groups with nutritional attributes that are encouraged (e.g., whole grains, fruits and vegetables) or discouraged (e.g., sugar-sweetened beverages, candy) consistent with dietary guidance, composition of purchases by degree of processing (less, moderate, or high), and convenience (requires preparation, ready to heat, or ready to eat) were measured. Data analysis was performed in 2016. Longitudinal random-effects model adjusted outcomes controlling for household composition, education, race/ethnicity of the head of the household, county quarterly unemployment rates, and seasonality are presented.

      Results

      Among WIC households, significant decreases in purchases of calories (−11%), sodium (−12%), total fat (−10%), and sugar (−15%) occurred, alongside decreases in purchases of refined grains, grain-based desserts, higher-fat milks, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and increases in purchases of fruits/vegetables with no added sugar/fats/salt. Income-eligible nonparticipating households had similar, but less pronounced, reductions. Changes were gradual and increased over time.

      Conclusions

      WIC food package revisions appear associated with improved nutritional profiles of food purchases among WIC participating households compared with low-income nonparticipating households. These package revisions may encourage WIC families to make healthier choices among their overall packaged food purchases.
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