ARC Health & Wellness Community

The Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals


By Sally Smithwick, Health & Wellness Content Contributor

This year we heard from the Centers for Disease Control some alarming news regarding the health of American children when it comes to food. The report released in February of this year revealed that half of children under five years of age in the US do not eat a single vegetable in one day, and one-third don’t eat a single fruit. That is the bad news, but there is a silver lining, and perhaps news that can help the food industry better serve the health and wellness needs of young children, infants and new mothers.  

Data from Analyses of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that changes to the WIC program are having a meaningful impact on food consumption behaviors in children. Studies conducted between 2005-2006 and 2017-2018 show an increase in total fruit as whole fruit consumption and an increase in milk consumption as low fat or nonfat milk. In addition, WIC recipients increased their intake of whole grains and percentage of energy and servings from added sugars declined significantly. 

In 2009, the USDA made changes to the WIC program, a food package that supplements the SNAP program to specifically address special nutritional needs of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants and children up to five years of age who are at nutritional risk. Those changes included more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lower fat milk. In addition to benefits for specific food items like milk, breakfast cereal, eggs, cheese, whole grain breads, fish, legumes, peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, the program provides resources for nutritional education. The WIC program is unique in this way as no other USDA Food Nutrition Services offer this service.  

While the additional support for purchasing these key foods for the health of women, infants and children is a significant reason this demographic has more access to certain foods, the USDA says that research “consistently shows that nutrition education interventions that use education methods directed at behavioral change are more likely to achieve positive results than interventions focused on dissemination of information only (i.e., lectures, handouts).” 

This is good news for retail dietitians working to promote health and wellness initiatives and programs that actively engage shoppers in face-to-face, phone, electronic and facilitated group communications. And that’s not limited to WIC participants. However, what we can learn from the WIC changes and follow up studies is that eating behaviors can change with intervention that not only provides accessibility, but education and motivation as well.  

On the USDA site, you’ll find the six elements the agency recommends incorporating for the most effective WIC nutrition education. This information on best practices in communicating healthy dietary choices can be applied to all shoppers.  

  • A review of the WIC nutrition assessment to identify the participant’s nutritional risk factors, needs and concerns; 
  • Messages that engage the participant in setting individual, simple and attainable goals and provide clear and relevant “how to” actions to accomplish those goals; 
  • Counseling methods/teaching strategies that are relevant to the participant’s nutritional risk and are easily understood by the participant; 
  • A delivery medium that creates opportunities for participant interaction and feedback; 
  • Continuous support through informational/environmental reinforcements; and 
  • Follow-up to assess for behavior change and determine intervention effectiveness. 

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