The proposed changes would add fruit, vegetables and whole grains to the WIC packages for the fist time, said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a notice on Monday.
"Over the past decade, knowledge of nutrient requirements has increased substantially, resulting in a set of new dietary reference values called the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). The DRIs replace the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) as nutrient reference values for the United States population. Based on the DRIs, many of the recommendations for nutrient intakes for individuals have changed substantially since the WIC food packages were originally formulated," said the USDA.
WIC food packages were designed to provide supplemental foods to address the nutritional needs of low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as infants and children up to five years of age.
The current proposed rule would implement the first comprehensive revisions to the WIC food packages since 1980.
It is based on recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which independently reviewed the food packages on request from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service in September 2003.
The IOM used current scientific information to assess the adequacy of the diets of people served by WIC.
As well as adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the proposed revisions would also provide greater amounts of nutrients such as iron, fiber and vitamin E. The new food packages would also provide less saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat and sodium than the current packages.
The monthly allowance for eggs and milk would also be reduced under the revised program.
These changes were made to better reflect the levels recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, said the USDA.
Current WIC supplemental foods include iron-fortified infant formulas and cereals, and vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetable juice, as well as calcium/protein-rich milk and cheese, and protein/iron-rich eggs.
"Although basic concepts of nutrition have not changed, there has been a substantial increase in knowledge of specific concepts such as bioavailability, nutrient-nutrient interactions, and the distribution of dietary intake of nutrients across subgroups of the population," said the USDA.
"In addition to recommended intakes, the DRIs include appropriate standards to use in determining whether diets are nutritionally adequate without being excessive," it added.
Indeed, the revisions also take into account emerging public health nutrition-related issues, particularly the health risks associated with overweight and obesity.
"The addition of fruits and vegetables and the emphasis on whole grains are consistent with recommendations for food patterns that may contribute to a healthy body weight. Compared to the current food packages, the revised food packages provide less saturated fat and cholesterol than the current packages for women and children. In addition, the revised food packages are designed to encourage breastfeeding and thus may contribute to a reduced risk of overweight in children," said the USDA.
The revised WIC program has been praised by the nation's fresh produce industry bodies, including the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, which said that adding fruit and vegetable to the program will give participants a stronger nutritional foundation.
However, industry bodies representing commodities that are due to be reduced in the new program are not equally as happy.
The Egg Nutrition Center and the American Egg Board claimed that a reduction in eggs would make it more difficult for WIC participants to meet their nutrient needs.
And the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation claimed that even under the current program many WIC participants do not get the recommended levels of nutrients received through milk and cheese products, and that reducing the availability of these further would have a "very real, negative nutritional effect."
The proposal is now in a period of consideration and open to comments, which must be posted by November 6 2006.