Millions of children from low-income families have benefited greatly from changes to a U.S. government nutrition program, a new study finds. It’s good news for a nation where 1 in 5 children entering elementary school are overweight. 
More fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk were included in 2009 to the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Researchers at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, UC San Francisco, and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Nutrition Policy Institute found that the healthy additions improved the quality of the diets of approximately 4 million children who are served by WIC.
WIC delivers grants to states to provide various services intended to improve “the health and nutrition” of pregnant women, infants, and children up to the age of 5 years. Among these services are supplemental food voucher packages and nutrition education.
In addition to the addition of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk, the change in the program also included a 50% decrease in the juice allotment. Healthier portions of whole fruit were also added. 
For the study, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, Tester and her colleagues analyzed the diets of 1,197 children age 2 to 4 years who came from low-income households before and after the 2009 change in WIC. The researchers used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare a nationally representative sample from 2003 to 2008 with diets in 2011 to 2012.
Lead author June Tester, a physician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, said of the team’s findings:
“Although the findings only showed significant improvement for consumption of greens and beans, the other areas for which WIC has put in important efforts – increased consumption of whole fruits rather than fruit juice, increased whole grains – all show trends in the right direction, and there is opportunity for further study in the future when more years have passed after this landmark change in the WIC package.” 
Study co-author Patricia Crawford, a cooperative extension nutrition specialist with UC’s Nutrition Policy Institute, said:
“Increasing consumption of nutritious foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains in the low-income children served by WIC will help them establish healthier eating patterns for their future.”
Tester said the study results will be beneficial to the Institute of Medicine committee currently reviewing and assessing the nutritional status and dietary needs of individuals who qualify for WIC, and the impact of the WIC food package revisions. The committee will make recommendations for changing those packages.