In November 2022, USDA put forth proposed science-based updates to the WIC food packages. Drawing on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the 2017 consensus report of an expert review by the National Academies of Sciences, USDA’s proposals recognize that WIC’s public health success is rooted in science, with healthy foods issued to address key nutrient gaps. If realized, the 2022 updates would complement prior revisions – most notably the 2009 updates – to strengthen WIC’s health outcomes and build healthier eating patterns for the next generation.
The National WIC Association is in strong support of USDA’s proposed updates. Once the comment period concludes on February 21, USDA will have to review all of the submitted comments and put forth a final rule. NWA is committed to working with USDA, State WIC agencies, and other stakeholders to swiftly implement updated food packages and deliver additional healthy foods to the shopping baskets of WIC families.
The USDA proposed rule would:
- Permanently increase the value of the WIC benefit. Before Congress increased WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit, the average WIC benefit was only $36/month. In 2022, USDA estimated a 33% increase in the value of the WIC benefit, recognizing that WIC families were now empowered to purchase a greater amount and variety of fruits and vegetables. Additional steps to strengthen the value of the WIC benefit will support healthier eating patterns and increase the perceived value of WIC participation, enhancing retention and the program’s overall public health impact.
- Balance issuance in alignment with DGAs. USDA’s proposed rule would make the fruit and vegetable bump permanent, significantly expanding access to these underconsumed food categories. Fruit would join dairy as one of the most issued food groups in the WIC benefit. USDA also takes steps to boost whole grain issuance for adults and introduce seafood across the food packages, providing greater amounts of whole grains and protein foods. USDA’s proposed rule is mindful of DGA recommendations to balance within food categories, including shifts to prioritize whole fruit instead of 100% fruit juice and requirements that all breakfast cereals meet whole grain standards to prioritize whole grain intake.
- Strengthen nutrition standards to improve quality of WIC-approved products. USDA’s proposal to require all breakfast cereals to meet whole grain standards will encourage manufacturers to put healthier products on the grocery shelf. Similarly, new fortification requirements for yogurt, tofu, and soy-based products will not only improve the nutritional quality of these foods, but also ensure that priority nutrients typically delivered through fluid milk would be found in a broader range of products. USDA proposes to create a pathway for nutritionally equivalent plant-based alternatives, further encouraging industry efforts to reformulate and put forth even more products that will deliver priority nutrients.
- Improve the shopping experience. USDA’s proposed rule takes a substantial step in relieving burdens on WIC shoppers by embracing package size flexibility. Before the proposed rule, WIC agencies were limited in what could be authorized and regulations did not fully account for evolving packaging and manufacturer practices. USDA’s proposed rule would allow smaller package sizes (e.g., single-serve containers and multipacks) that will improve participant choice. Additionally, USDA would put forth a range of new substitution patterns, including for dairy and infant foods, to empower WIC families with greater choice.
- Address the diversity of the WIC population. USDA’s proposed rule encourages a greater range of options to account for cultural preferences, including new whole grain options like quinoa, teff, and whole-wheat naan. New substitution patterns and pathways for plant-based products would account for the diversity of diet patterns, including vegetarians and vegans, food sensitivities and allergies, and religious-based food preferences.
Read our comment here.