Families on food assistance are purchasing more fruits and vegetables

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Efforts to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables among women and young children receiving food assistance are paying off, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The study is published in Public Health Nutrition.

Purchases of fruits and vegetables have increased among families participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) after revisions were implemented in 2009 to offer foods that better reflect dietary recommendations for Americans.

The WIC program is designed to help meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and young children who are at nutritional risk. Prior to the WIC food package revisions, participants received no benefits to purchase fruits, with the exception of 100% fruit juice. Vegetables were limited to dried beans, peas, and, for breastfeeding women only, canned or fresh carrots. After the revisions, financial incentives were provided to families for purchasing fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables.

This is the first study to measure how successful the new WIC fruit and vegetable benefits are in incentivizing fruit and vegetable purchases among WIC participants.

Rudd Center researchers examined fruit and vegetable purchases made at a New England supermarket chain by households participating in WIC over a two-year period. Fruit and vegetable spending and volume purchased by these households were compared before and after the WIC revisions.

Purchases of fresh vegetables increased in volume by nearly 18%, and purchases of frozen vegetables increased by nearly 28%. The biggest improvements were for fresh fruit, with an increase of almost 29%, adding almost a kilogram of fresh fruits per household per month.

The authors assert that similar results from food policy changes have been seen in other products and policies. A study published in the journal Pediatrics examined juice purchases after the WIC revisions and found that participants purchased less juice. WIC participants also purchased fewer full-fat dairy products after the revisions, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, a study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicinefound that purchases of 100% whole-grain bread and brown rice increased among WIC participants after the package revisions.

“Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in low-income women and young children was one of the key goals in revising the WIC food packages,” says Tatiana Andreyeva, lead author and director of economic initiatives at the Rudd Center. “This study shows that the revisions were successful and necessary, given the inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption in vulnerable populations.”

The study was funded by a grant from the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Megan Orciari: megan.orciari@yale.edu, 203-432-8520