Skip to Content

A [Whole] Grain of Health


The government’s effort to promote the healthy consumption of whole grains among people receiving federal food assistance is starting to pay off, according to a just-released study from our friends at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

People receiving benefits via the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are consuming more 100 percent whole grain bread and brown rice, researchers found. The improvements come after a 2009 change to the WIC that allowed the purchase of foods that better reflect dietary recommendations for Americans.

Those guidelines state that healthy people should eat at least three servings of whole grains daily. WIC did not provide bread or rice prior to the 2009 revisions, and as a result, refined grains such as white bread and rice dominated WIC household purchases.

Increasing whole-grain consumption was one of the goals for revising the WIC food packages, and the study shows that the revisions were “successful and necessary,” says Tatiana Andreyeva, lead author of the study and director of economic initiatives at Yale Rudd.

“These revisions definitely were a right step,” she tells the Inside Track.

Yale researchers conducted the study by examining bread and rice purchases made at a supermarket chain by WIC households over a two-year period, which took place before and after the WIC revisions.. After the revisions went into place, purchases of 100 percent whole grain bread jumped to 24 percent and brown rice rose to 30 percent of rice purchases.

The findings add to the evidence that the changes to the WIC program could be playing a significant role in helping improve whole grain intake which is an important part of a healthy diet..

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this year that rates among preschool aged children had dropped in 18 states and one U.S. territory, Yale Rudd researchers released findings showing that WIC dropping items such as sugary drinks had led to corner stores in low-income communities to stock healthier items. In turn, parents began to shift from buying juice in favor of healthier alternatives such as low-fat milk. Small changes like that can mean a huge difference, researchers argued.

The WIC revisions really were a win-win for everyone, Andreyeva noted. WIC recipients were able to purchase healthier whole grain products — and since the changes were designed to be cost neutral, it didn’t cost the government any additional money. And if time proves that the revisions do play a part in reducing obesity, they could end up reducing health care costs.

“Here are some changes that we can make that won’t cost us a lot of money, but in the long term will actually save taxpayers money,” she says.

Andreyeva and her team now plan to continue researching whether WIC revisions are changing recipients’ buying habits for the better, including recent changes designed to encourage consumption over low-fat milk over whole milk.