UConn research shows increased healthy food purchases among assisted families

Banana and whole gains are some of the WIC program approved food offored in the Student Union food court at UConn. WIC is a program that provides supplementary food, health care and nutrition education for low-income women, infants and children in each state. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Banana and whole gains are some of the WIC program approved food offored in the Student Union food court at UConn. WIC is a program that provides supplementary food, health care and nutrition education for low-income women, infants and children in each state. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

A recent study co-authored by a University of Connecticut professor shows that participants of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Assistance Program have increased their purchase of healthy food items since the program’s revision in 2009.

“The idea was to reduce the amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium in the diets of the participants,” director of Economic Initiatives at the UConn Rudd Center Tatiana Andreyeva said when describing the 2009 revision to the WIC program.

The WIC program provides assistance to pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants and young children under 5-years-old who are at nutritional risk, Andreyeva said.

In order to both increase the consumption of healthy items while not increasing the current cost of the program, the 2009 revisions to the WIC program saw cutbacks on milk, cheese and juice and the introduction of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Andreyeva said.

Interested in determining whether the 2009 revision to the WIC program was associated with any changes in participant’s consumer behavior, Andreyeva, along with a Yale researcher, conducted a correlational study.

There was an increase in WIC program participants’ healthy food and drink purchases and a decrease in purchases of unhealthy beverages since the 2009 WIC program revisions, according to the study.

The biggest change found was a 24.7 percent decrease in volume of purchased unhealthy beverages, according to the study.

This finding was further reinforced by the fact that WIC program participants did not increase their purchase of unhealthy food or drink with non-WIC program funds, according to the study.

The WIC program provides an important opportunity to prevent childhood obesity, especially for infants, Andreyeva said.

“Establishing healthy habits earlier on will prevent unhealthy eating choices and would be easier to do than correcting behavior that people are used to,” Andreyeva said.

Andreyeva also said that most people would be surprised at the participation rate of the WIC program: one in two babies in this country participates in the WIC program.

“A lot of people sometimes feel that all these government programs are marginalized,” Andreyeva said. “… when the reality is a very large portion of them will participate in our program… (which) can affect millions of people.”

Andreyeva’s article is one of many studies produced under the Rudd Center. The Rudd Center’s mission is to prevent childhood obesity and poor diet as well as end weight stigma, Andreyeva said.

The Rudd Center publishes reports on obesity-related topics and provides brief summaries in order to engage and educate people, Sally Mancini, director of Advocacy Resources of the Rudd Center, said.

“Our hope is that [our] research will spur the debate forward and policymakers will draft legislation that needed our research,” Mancini said.

In the meantime, Andreyeva has a suggestion for the mandatory future revision of the WIC program.

“I want to see less juice. It’s one product I think WIC should not be giving at all,” Andreyeva said. “Whatever money the program is spending on juice I would [shift to] fruits and vegetables.”

 


Dario Cabrera is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at dario.cabrera@uconn.edu.