Obesity dropping in kids aged 2-4 years in WIC program



A federal supplemental food program continues to reduce obesity prevalence among children aged 2-4 years who participate in it.

Toddler drinking milk LP7/E+/Getty Images

During 2010-2016, the prevalence of obesity among children in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program significantly decreased in 73% of 56 states and territories, Liping Pan, MD, and colleagues reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The obesity prevalence decreases varied, but exceeded 3% in Guam, New Jersey, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Virginia. Puerto Rico experienced the greatest benefit, with an 8% decrease in obesity among children aged 2-4 years enrolled in the WIC program, wrote Dr. Pan, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and coauthors.

Although the changes were small, the positive trend gains more import when viewed in light of the country’s long-term obesity trends, Dr. Pan and his team wrote. After a short-lived dip during 2007-2012, obesity has been on the rise among these children, jumping from 8% in 2012 to 14% in 2016. “Thus, even these small decreases indicate progress for this vulnerable WIC population,” the team said.

WIC extends nutritional assistance to families whose income is 185% or less of the federal poverty guideline or are eligible for other programs, as well as being deemed at nutritional risk.

The current study looked at obesity trends during 2010-2016 among 12,403,629 WIC recipients aged 2-4 years in all 50 U.S. states and five territories.

In 2010, obesity prevalence ranged from a low of 10% in Colorado to a high of 22% in Virginia. In Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Virginia, it was 20% or higher. Only in Colorado and Hawaii was obesity prevalence 10% or less among these children.

By 2016, obesity prevalence among children aged 2-4 years ranged from 8% in the Northern Mariana Islands to 19.8% in Alaska. It was less than 20% in all the states and territories, and less than 10% in Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Utah, and Wyoming.

It increased during 2010-2016, however, in Alabama (0.5%), North Carolina (0.6%), and West Virginia (2.2%).

The changes reflect the 2009 program revisions made to adhere to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the infant food and feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Pan and associates wrote.

“The revised food packages include a broader range of healthy food options; promote fruit, vegetable, and whole wheat product purchases; support breastfeeding; and give WIC state and territory agencies more flexibility to accommodate cultural food preferences,” the authors noted.

In response to the changes, Dr. Pan and associates noted, authorized WIC stores began carrying healthier offerings. Tracking showed that children in the program consumed more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products and less juice, white bread, and whole milk after the revisions than they did previously.

Despite the good news, childhood obesity rates still are too high and much remains to be done, they noted.

“Multiple approaches are needed to address and eliminate childhood obesity. The National Academy of Medicine and other groups have recommended a comprehensive and integrated approach that calls for positive changes in physical activity and food and beverage environments in multiple settings including home, early care and education [such as nutrition standards for food served], and community [such as neighborhood designs that encourage walking and biking] to promote healthy eating and physical activity for young children. Further implementation of these positive changes across the United States could further the decreases in child-hood obesity,” Dr. Pan and coauthors concluded.

Dr. Pan and coauthors had no financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Pan L et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Nov 22;68(46):1057-61.

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