National food policy programs improve access to healthy foods

Access to healthy food in underserved communities has improved significantly after changes in federal nutrition and food assistance programs, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Published in the June, 2012, issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the study shows that the revisions in food packages for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have increased the availability and variety of healthy foods in WIC-authorized and non-WIC convenience and grocery stores.

The WIC program is designed to help meet the needs of pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children who are at nutritional risk. The program’s food packages were revised in 2009 to offer foods that better reflect dietary recommendations for Americans. The Yale researchers looked at inventories of 252 convenience stores and non-chain grocery stores in Connecticut to assess the variety, quality, and prices of WIC-approved foods before and after the new WIC food package implementation.

Researchers found that within six to eight months of the WIC revisions, the provision of healthy foods, such as whole-grain products and produce, improved significantly in convenience and grocery stores participating in the WIC program. Non-WIC convenience and grocery stores, especially in low-income neighborhoods, also showed some improvement.

The researchers assert that the WIC food package revisions have improved access to healthy foods not only for WIC participants but for communities at large.

According to lead author Tatiana Andreyeva, the Yale Rudd Center’s director of economic initiatives, “Stores participating in the WIC program have found ways to deliver new healthy foods when they were required to do so. If the experience in Connecticut is typical of other states, national food policy programs that promote the consumption of healthy foods, but also require changes in stores, can help to improve local food environments for program participants and non-participants alike.”