New York children participating in a federal nutrition program had healthier eating behaviors and lower rates of obesity two years after improvements to the program were undertaken, according to a study published online today in Obesity, the official journal of the Obesity Society.
In 2009 all 50 states rolled out sweeping changes to the menu of foods available through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which reaches nearly half of all infants born in the United States. New York was the first state in the nation to roll out the new package of food vouchers, which added vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, substituted low-fat for whole milk, and reduced fruit juices. The New York State WIC program also added healthy lifestyle promotion, such as increasing physical activity and reducing screen time, as a core service.
To assess the impact of the changes, researchers analyzed 3.5 million New York State WIC records from before and after the January 2009 changes in the food package. The study was conducted by researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the New York State Department of Health, and Public Health Solutions, a New York-based nonprofit.
Most encouraging for those concerned about reversing the childhood obesity epidemic were the observed differences in the proportion of obese children. After the changes in WIC programming, there was a 6% decline in obesity among 1 year-olds, from 15.1 to 14.2%, and 3% among 2-4 year-olds, from 14.6 to 14.2%.
"The new WIC food package was designed to promote healthier eating choices for children and we are excited by results that show it is helping to reduce pediatric obesity," State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, said. "New York was the first state to implement the new WIC food package and is the first to report that changing the foods provided to children under the program helped to improve their eating behavior and achieve healthier weights. Changing WIC foods does change what children eat."
When compared to children in the "old" WIC, children in the "new" WIC had more healthy behaviors and were less likely to be overweight or obese. For instance: