The proposed bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), would expand access to multivitamin dietary supplements for purchase as part of the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC). The WIC program, which is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
As matters stand, these benefits can be used for many kinds of food products of dubious health value, including sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, but supplements are excluded. Which makes little sense to NPA president and CEO Dan Fabricant, PhD.
“Why should you be able to buy Dora the Explorer cereal but not a Nature’s Way Children’s Chewable vitamin?” Fabricant said. He noted that many of these children could very likely be living in ‘food deserts,’ a concept recently developed to help describe the different food choices available to wealthier families and poor families and the potentially grotesque disparity in the nutrient density of the resulting diets.
“When you go to these food desert areas, there is no produce in those stores. How are those families supposed to get adequate micronutrient intake?” Fabricant said.
Fabricant said the choice was made to start with multivitamins, which are generally inexpensive, ultra low risk and well supported by science. The products have the advantage, too, of specifially addressing diet-caused micronutrient deficiencies.
WIC could serve as stepping stone
And, Fabricant said despite the bluster of recent legislative wrangles about health care and the ascendency of budget hawks on Capitol Hill, the need to help families in this situation will endure, and alterations to this program might serve as a stepping stone on the path to directing more federally mandated health care and nutrition dollars toward dietary supplements. The long term goal would be to allow money saved by consumers in tax-free Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) to be used to pay for supplements.
“WIC is not going away,” Fabricant said. “If we can get into the WIC basket it would be easier to get an expansion of HSAs and FSAs.”
Rep. Brat is at the moment not a member of the Dietary Supplement Caucus. Fabricant said the immediate task is to get some caucus members to support the bill, and he said it’s critically important for stakeholders in the dietary supplement industry to contact their local representatives.
“We are asking people to write their member of Congress to tell them to support the bill,” Fabricant said.