Study shows whole grains lead to wholesale changes in WIC

Real-life impact shown in program that services more than half of U.S. infants

In the United States more than half of all infants and nearly one-third of children ages one to five participate in USDA’s WIC program (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children).

That’s one reason why the USDA made changes to the program in 2009 to provide foods linked to healthy diets and to include more whole grain food options in the packages families receive. This came on recommendations of a committee of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, which included research by AAEA member Helen Jensen of Iowa State University.

“Whole grains have health benefits so if we make changes in the (WIC) foods offered we can increase the amount of whole grains compared to refined grains,” Jensen said. “We want to build healthy eating habits for the long term.”

So what happened after the changes? That’s the focus of a paper by Jensen and her co-authors “Did Revisions to the WIC Program Affect Household Expenditures on Whole Grains?.” The paper was selected to appear in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

“One of the objectives was to introduce people to healthier foods but not turn off participation in the program,” Jensen said. “The opportunity to affect the lives of children and women was apparent.”

And there are more changes than just what participating families received from the program. This nationwide study highlights some of the program effects on purchases in the retail market. To learn more about the study, what could happen next, or to set up an interview with Dr. Jensen, please contact Jay Saunders in the AAEA Business Office.

ABOUT AAEA: Established in 1910, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) is the leading professional association for agricultural and applied economists, with 2,500 members in more than 20 countries. Members of the AAEA work in academic or government institutions as well as in industry and not-for-profit organizations, and engage in a variety of research, teaching, and outreach activities in the areas of agriculture, the environment, food, health, and international development. The AAEA publishes two journals, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy, as well as the online magazine Choices. To learn more, visit

(Released October 2016)