WIC’s targeted nutrition intervention has proven to be one of the most effective tools to build nutrition security, especially for communities of color. The 2009 food package revisions were transformational, ensuring that millions of WIC families could purchase healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This science-informed shift in WIC benefit issuance worked to close nutrition intake disparities that fuel chronic diet-related conditions like obesity and type-2 diabetes. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, NWA remains committed to ensuring that Hispanic and Latino parents are equipped with the resources and information to provide a healthy start to life for their children.
WIC serves 2.9 million Hispanic and Latino participants, and healthier WIC foods had a pronounced impact on these communities.
Through a combination of WIC’s diverse food package and individualized nutrition counseling, WIC is leading the way in helping parents make healthy choices and growing a healthier next generation.
Hispanic Heritage Month partially overlaps with Whole Grains Month, providing an opportunity to focus on one of the ways in which WIC helps close nutrition intake disparities. In 2017, independent experts with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recommended stronger whole grain standards throughout the WIC food package, ensuring increased whole grain intake through breads, cereals, and other grains. These steps would boost overall whole grain consumption, which is especially critical for closing the widest disparities faced by Hispanic and Latino families. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with Aldo Valles, a WIC supervisor at the Anthony New Mexico clinic, to discuss his experience with him about the intersection of whole grain consumption within the Hispanic community he serves.
Q: Tell me your name, title, and a bit about your work with WIC.
A: My name is Aldo Valles and I'm a WIC supervisor for the Anthony New Mexico clinic. I've been working at WIC for about seven years. I started as a nutritionist in Texas in El Paso, Texas. Then I went to Las Cruces clinic here in New Mexico as a nutritionist. Then I transferred to the Anthony office as a supervisor.
Q: What can other WIC staffers do to encourage Hispanic people to eat more whole grains or integrate more whole grains within their traditional diet?
A: We must do the same thing as we do with breastfeeding and fruits and vegetables. We must hit the spot. We can't tell Hispanic people to stop eating corn tortillas, but just to include other sources of whole grains. Because whole grains are healthy, we have to emphasize the benefits of whole grains, and educate them on how important fiber is to our digestion. Constipation is a very common issue during pregnancy and a lot of children also don't consume enough fiber.
Q: What are some of the ways you've seen this assumption that Hispanic people don’t consume whole grains in your work?
A: It's not that Hispanic people have a poor diet or a diet with no nutrients from their countries of origin. It’s that sometimes they need an extra push and more information in words that they can understand that will inspire them to incorporate these types of foods into their diet. We must recognize the healthiness that they already bring and sprinkling in additional nutrients.
Q: What role does cereal play in increasing whole grain intake?
A: Breakfast cereal is very common in a child’s diet and an easy way to work whole grains into a diet. We understand that often when mothers go grocery shopping with their children, they’re trying to grab what they need and go. So, when a mom is picking out cereal for her kids, she will choose the one her kids like eating first, which is typically a high-sugar cereal. By educating moms and parents on the importance of whole grains and how to get them, they may be more likely to choose a cereal with higher nutritional value.
Q: What success have you seen in increasing consumption among clients from Hispanic communities and how have they benefited?
A: We're noticing clients are asking more questions about what whole grain products they can get. Now they're switching from using the most common cereals to whole grain cereals. They’re also switching from white bread to whole grain bread. They're saying that their constipation issues are not as serious as before. This demonstrates that these little changes in their daily routines are instrumental in their overall health.
Q: In your experience, what types of traditional foods are Hispanic clients transitioning to whole grains?
A: There has been a very significant change in rice. Hispanic people typically consume white rice but now they're asking for recipes using brown rice, and even mentioning how much they enjoy the flavor of brown rice. A lot of clients are asking which brown rice brands are WIC-approved. That is one easy swap they can make in the recipes they’re already preparing.
Q: Why is this topic important to you?
A: This is important to me because of the public health problems we have that are related to a low-fiber diet, a low-grain diet – all of the resulting problems that are linked to many diseases in the US. As a dietitian, it's a very important topic because diet is the base of your health. If you have a healthy diet, you lower your risk of many diseases, especially Latinos, who have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. If we strive towards a balanced diet each day, we avoid taking more medications, we avoid doctor visits, or other complications later in life.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add that you might think is important when it comes to this topic?
A: Hispanic Heritage Month and Whole Grains Month is a great opportunity to continue promoting and emphasizing the benefits of whole grains within the Hispanic community. We should continue this promotion of whole grains throughout the year, but this is a good month to start.
Register here to join the WIC Action Network, a coalition of over 500 local agency providers and community advocates. Through biweekly calls, the WIC Action Network will provide updates on forthcoming opportunities to strengthen nutrition standards and support healthier outcomes for WIC families.