One in five American children entering elementary school is overweight, highlighting the critical need to improve the diets of younger children. And that makes the findings of a new research study even more compelling. A University of California study published in the journal Pediatrics today shows that food provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) improves the diet quality of preschool children. 

The study’s authors are June Tester, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; Cindy Leung, UC San Francisco School of Medicine, Center for Health and Community; and Patricia Crawford, Nutrition Policy Institute, which operates under UC’s division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Read our Q&A with study co-author Pat Crawford.



WIC is a national program administered by the USDA‘s Food and Nutrition Services agency (FNS). WIC delivers grants to states to provide a range of services to improve “the health and nutrition” of pregnant women, infants and children up to the age of 5 years. These services include supplemental food voucher packages and nutrition education. More than 4 million American children are currently served by the WIC program.

WIC was created as a two-year pilot program in 1972, via an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The amendment was introduced by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. Within a short time, the program was operating in forty-five states. In 1975, WIC was established as a permanent USDA program.

In 2007, based on research provided by the Institute of Medicine (IOM – now the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences), changes were recommended to revise the WIC food package to align more closely with the IOM’s dietary recommendations. The changes took effect in 2009. Among the changes? Adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to the food voucher package. The changes also included lower-fat milk and a 50% decrease in the juice allotment (healthier portions of whole fruit were added). For information about the kinds of foods WIC packages contain, click here.

USDA – WIC program.

Why the Study Matters:

This UC study is the first to use a nationally representative sample to report on what are viewed as significant improvements in the “diet quality in young children associated with the WIC package change.” The study is also the first to use the updated Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), the tool that enables us to assess how America’s dietary patterns match up with the nation’s Dietary Guidelines. Learn more about the Healthy Eating Index in our interview with the USDA’s Angela Tagtow; she discusses the 2015 Dietary Guidelines here.

The researchers “analyzed the diets of 1,197 children, ages 2 to 4 years, from low-income households before and after the 2009 change in the food package.”

Study co-author and pediatrician June Tester said, “The change in the WIC food package is an important policy change in the effort to improve the quality of diets of young children…”


RELATED: California State University Northridge’s Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics, will host its annual public policy event on Monday, April 11th. “Advocating for a Healthy and Sustainable Food Environment” is a one-day event “designed to empower individuals to become effective advocates for food access, nutrition and community health.” Panels and workshops will feature representatives from a wide range of public and community-based organizations, including the Magaram Center, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, California Food Policy Advocates, Public Health Institute, Hunger Action Los Angeles, Food Recovery Network, Real Food Challenge, UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and a number of CSUN departments, including Campus Dining.

On hand to deliver keynote and capstone addresses will be Angela Tagtow, the Executive Director for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. The CNPP is the smallest USDA agency and focuses on improving American health. It is probably best known for its work in developing and promoting the Dietary Guidelines (in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services). These guidelines are reviewed every five years. Read our Q&A with Tagtow (part 1 and part 2).

Registration for this event is at capacity, but follow the day’s highlights at #CSUNPPD16.

Later in the week, Tagtow will be featured at events in Sacramento and Berkeley. She’ll be visiting the UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute (as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series) on April 12th. On April 13th she’ll be in Berkeley (The Challenge of Making Good Food Affordable). #GlobalFood