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By Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Amelie Ramirez, DrPH, MPH, Director, Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is excited to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss the importance of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) for the Hispanic/Latino Community.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the important contributions the Hispanic/Latino community has made across the country. We also acknowledge the vital food and nutrition programs that impact the community every day at school, at home, and in the community, including WIC. More than 6.2 million women, infants, and children participate in WIC. More than 40% of them are Hispanic/Latino, which makes WIC an important tool to advance health equity.
WIC remains one of the nation’s most successful, cost-effective public health nutrition programs. WIC participants, including those who are Hispanic/Latino, are more likely to have a more nutritious diet and better health outcomes, with participation tied to fewer infant deaths, fewer premature births, increased birth weights, and lower health care costs. WIC’s proven impact to reduce racial health disparities is why the USDA and Biden Administration have made historic investments to bolster the program to reach as many eligible families as possible.
Still, Hispanic/Latino children and families continue to experience inequitable access to food and disparities in diet-related illnesses. The rate of food insecurity among Hispanic/Latino households (16.2 percent) is significantly higher than the national average of 10.2 percent. Between 2013-2016, Hispanic/Latino children were 1.8 times more likely to be obese compared to non-Hispanic white children. COVID-19 also exacerbated the prevalence rates of diet-related diseases among Hispanic/Latino children.
To address these challenges, the USDA has taken bold actions to advance nutrition security to promote consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being.
One of these actions includes working toward implementing recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to update the WIC Food Package to align with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The WIC food packages were last updated in 2009 and helped increase access to healthier foods for Hispanic/Latino WIC Participants. After those revisions, several studies found that the diets of Hispanic/Latino children improved, including increased consumption of whole grains, fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and decreased fat consumption.
USDA will soon release a proposed rule and seek public comments on the next round of changes to the food packages, which aim to implement science-based advice on what to eat and drink to promote health, reduce risk of chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs. These changes promote healthy eating by WIC participants while being responsive to their dietary practices and cultural food ways.
Another important step the USDA is taking to promote access to healthy food is creating a WIC public health outreach campaign to ensure all children and families eligible for the program have the resources and support they need to enroll. WIC participation rates have been in decline for more than five years. Despite all the proven benefits of the program, currently, only 57% of eligible individuals participate in the program.
While USDA is working to modernize the program to better meet the needs of participants and provide an all-around positive experience for participants, here are 5 things you can do to support WIC for the Latino Community:
- Spread the word about WIC and where to find local WIC offices.
- Share your story on why WIC is important for Latinos as we celebrate the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
- Check out this new issue brief from the National WIC Association (NWA) on how the WIC food package advances health equity for Latinos.
- Follow the USDA and Salud America! for more information on updates to the WIC Food Package.
- Get involved with local community partners serving WIC participants!