Within WIC, there are three main policy areas: the appropriations process, Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Review of the WIC Food Packages. Each process involves examining the latest research and data on WIC; however, the process for reviewing the WIC food package is, perhaps, the most scientific as it involves looking at the science behind the nutritional needs of the WIC population and the evidence on the impacts of the current package. The WIC food package is reviewed every 10 years by an IOM expert committee. Central to the review is that recommendations are “grounded in the most recently available science” and meet the nutritional needs of the WIC population.
Since the last review in 2006 and the subsequent 2009 food package changes, there have been a number of studies that consider how the changes have influenced dietary intake, the availability of healthy foods and beverages, and breastfeeding outcomes. A recent paper published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reviewed 20 studies that explored these themes. A common trait recognized both by the authors of the paper and the latest IOM report is that research within WIC tends to focus on the impact of the food package change on a specific population in a specific geographical location. The IOM Committee is, therefore, tasked with the job of developing a national picture of the impact of the food package changes, based largely on local studies and national-level survey data.
On November 20th, the Committee published an interim report, Review of WIC Food Packages: Proposed Framework for Revisions. This report does not make any food package recommendations, rather, it presents the large body of evidence that is being considered in the review and the framework that the Committee will use to make final recommendations. The length reflects the robust analysis of research, survey data, observations, workshops and public comments the dedicated IOM Committee members reviewed.
The report provides a detailed account of the most up-to-date research relating to the WIC food package. You may think that this would be mainly focused on nutritional science, but in fact the report takes a broad look at the issues associated with not just the nutrition provided in the WIC food packages, but also the ease of use from a number of different perspectives. This is a crucial component of the review as it acknowledges both the cultural diversity and geographic diversity of the WIC program. To explore these differences, members of the IOM Expert Committee were all required to visit different WIC programs and “shop” for WIC foods to experience WIC from the perspective of the client. The ‘Committee Perceptions of the WIC Experience’ can be found in Appendix N of the report. To get through the content of this long report, we recommend reading Chapter 11, which contains summaries of each chapter and provides a sense of the breadth of evidence considered.
It is important that WIC administrators and frontline staff feed into the IOM review process. There are opportunities throughout the IOM review process to let your voice be heard. If you have thoughts on the current food package or anything in the most recent report, please submit comments online. There is also an opportunity to make comments in person on April 1, 2016 in Irvine, CA at a workshop and public comments session entitled ‘Informing WIC Food Package Recommendations: State, Vendor and Manufacturer Considerations – A Workshop and Public Comments Session’. We strongly encourage those of you who can participate in the meeting to attend.
Everyone on the IOM Expert Committee is a volunteer. We thank them for their dedication and commitment to a process that is central to the WIC program success.