NPA sent the letters last week advocating for a change in rules for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NPA is signing on in effect to a move already underway in the House of Representatives that urges the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to investigate expanding access to vitamins for low-income mothers and children. The provision is included in the House Agriculture Committee’s FY 2017 appropriations bill report. NPA executive director Daniel Fabricant, PhD, said this comes after a yearlong grassroots and advocacy effort spearheaded by NPA.
“The provision commissions a study for the Food and Nutrition Service (a USDA body) to look at the inclusion of a multivitamin. The study would at where there are nutrient deficiencies, and what the impacts of a multivitamin would be,” Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA.
Since 1978, the WIC Supplemental Food Program has served low‐income, at risk pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5. The WIC program provides federal grants to the states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education. The program has grown significantly in its nearly 40-years of existence, and it now serves approximately 8 million participants.
Science supports move
At about 33 cents a day per serving, Fabricant said a multivitamin would be inexpensive insurance to head off the problems associated with nutrient deficiency. Fabricant cited a study published in 2009 the Maternal and Child Health Journal that showed that children without access to proper nutrition are more likely to develop learning difficulties in the first two years of life. Another more recent meta analysis published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of multivitamin use in four developed countries and how that relates to adverse birth outcomes concluded that “routine multivitamin use in high-income countries can be recommended” though the authors thought more large, long-term high-quality studies of the issue are called for.
NPA said vitamins are proven to have many health benefits that are especially relevant to those individuals the WIC program intends to help. They can:
- Prevent classic nutrient deficiency diseases (scurvy, pellagra, and iron deficiency anemia);
- Improve appetite and growth rates in low-income children;
- Prevent neural tube birth defects;
- Protect against heart disease and stroke; and
- Build bone mass in the young.
The ranks of USDA contain many dietitians, who, as a class, tend to opt for the notion that nutrients should be obtained exclusively through foods, and supplementation should be considered only as a last resort. But Fabricant said the reality is that we live in a country whose typical servings of food tend to be calorie-rich and nutrient-poor and nowhere is this more true than in the neighborhoods where many WIC recipients live.
“I think we already know there are people living in food deserts who are not getting proper nutrition,” he said.