How one program aims to win the battle against nutrition insecurity

(BPT) – People visiting foodbanks rose by 55% in 2020, with about a quarter of those being first-time visitors, according to Feeding America. This need highlighted an important program that has been serving pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and infants and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk. That program is called the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

While COVID shined a light on the nation’s battle with nutrition insecurity — hunger as it is more commonly known — the need has not gone away as the pandemic waned. In fact, with inflation increasing over the past few years, for many, it has become tougher to find affordable fruits and vegetables, making WIC even more important.

According to the USDA, 50% of babies and their mothers qualify for WIC, which includes a dedicated monthly benefit participants can use to purchase healthful fruits and vegetables for themselves and their children. Research shows this benefit not only enhances access to fresh produce for low-income children but also fosters healthier pregnancies and optimal growth and development in children and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.

WIC has infused needed resources that have helped increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables to two cups per day — delivering on the federal government’s own dietary guidance recommendations.

Despite widespread bipartisan support and verifiable benefits for kids and mothers, the program still faces problems as some budget proposals look to reduce funding for programs so many have relied on to feed their families. This would reduce access to nutritional foods among those who can least afford them and reverse its track record of producing positive health care outcomes for participants.

One latest proposal is a bill (H.R. 4368) that calls for reducing the fruit and vegetable benefit by 70%, with children receiving $11 monthly for fruits and vegetables and women receiving $13.

“We should be looking for ways to increase access to healthy foods, not putting up barriers, and $24 a month is insufficient for meeting women’s and children’s needs. The nutritional eating habits, started now, will be with them the rest of their lives, making their lives healthier,” said Mollie Van Lieu, the vice president for Nutrition and Health for the International Fresh Produce Association.

A report released in 2023 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that nearly one in two children don’t eat a single vegetable each day, and about a third of kids don’t eat any fruit on any given day.

WIC doesn’t just benefit mothers and babies, but also provides a positive economic impact to not just fruit and vegetable growers and the local economies where WIC benefits are redeemed. Under recent proposals, an estimated $1 billion would be cut from fruit and vegetable sales, potentially impacting fruit and vegetable growers across the country.

Bottom line: Understanding the many benefits of the WIC program is essential before making any lasting decisions that could impact families, farmers, numerous communities, local economies and more.