Public Release: 

White potatoes should be allowed under WIC, says IOM report

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture should allow white potatoes as a vegetable eligible for purchase with vouchers issued by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC), says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. If relevant changes occur in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendation should be re-evaluated.

A program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, WIC provides nutrition education and health and social service referrals for low-income infants, children up to age five, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum. It also provides a $10 cash value voucher per month to women and an $8 voucher per month to children, redeemable for fruits and vegetables, so they can obtain specific nutrients in their diets. Foods provided through WIC must align with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are revised every five years.

From the 2005 Dietary Guidelines to those issued in 2010, the recommended consumption of starchy vegetables increased from 2.5 cups to 3.5 cups per week for children and from 3 cups to 5 cups per week for women. On average, children and women are consuming about 64 percent and 56 percent, respectively, of current recommended amounts of starchy vegetables. The committee that wrote the IOM report also found that for low-income children, consumption of calcium, potassium, and fiber falls short when compared to national benchmarks for recommended intakes. For low-income women, intakes of seven nutrients -- vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, iron, folate and dietary fiber -- are in need of substantial improvement.

The committee determined that WIC participants' intakes of all vegetable subgroups, including starchy vegetables, could be improved. Because white potatoes are particularly high in potassium, increased consumption may help reduce shortfalls of potassium in the diets of both children and women. Additionally, the inclusion of white potatoes would offer WIC participants more ways to meet their preferences -- or at minimum would likely not reduce them -- and might reduce the administrative burden for vendors by reducing voucher restrictions.

The committee was concerned about ensuring effective implementation of its recommendation to promote alignment with the dietary guidelines to consume a variety of vegetables and limit saturated fat and sodium, as well as to ensure the continued availability of other vegetables offered by vendors.

In 2006, the IOM released the report WIC Food Packages: A Time for Change, which used the 2005 Dietary Guidelines as a basis to conclude that white potatoes should be excluded as an eligible vegetable under WIC. Because the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommendations for starchy vegetables increased from the 2005 Guidelines, as described above, participants often do not meet or exceed these intake goals. Thus, the basis for excluding white potatoes that was used for the 2006 IOM report no longer applies, the committee said.

Additional recommendations by the committee include:

  • USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should collaborate to achieve expansion of data collection on dietary intakes for pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

  • USDA should undertake a separate, comprehensive examination of currently available data to assess the effectiveness of the current cash value vouchers in meeting WIC participants' food pattern and dietary intake goals as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including use of white potatoes in the context of the cultural diversity of WIC participants.

  • USDA should allocate resources to support studies related to participant satisfaction with the cash value vouchers; how participants decide how much of the vouchers to spend; how participants decide to apportion this benefit among the vegetables and fruits, between vegetables and fruits, and between the vouchers and other food purchases; how vendors have changed the WIC-eligible vegetables and fruits they stock because of the implementation of the vouchers; and how the vouchers and their implementation have affected vendors.

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The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. A committee roster follows.

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INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Food and Nutrition Board

Committee to Review WIC Food Packages

Kathleen M. Rasmussen (chair)
Professor of Nutrition
Division of Nutritional Sciences
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Gail G. Harrison2
Professor
Center for Health Sciences
UCLA School of Public Health
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles

Susan S. Baker
Professor
Department of Pediatrics, and
Co-Chief
Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Center
Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo
Buffalo, N.Y.

Marianne P. Bitler
Professor
Department of Economics
University of California, Irvine
Irvine

Patsy M. Brannon
Professor
Division of Nutritional Sciences
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Alicia Carriquiry
Distinguished Professor
Department of Statistics
Iowa State University
Ames

David E. Davis
Department of Economics
South Dakota State University
Brookings

Mary Kay Fox
Senior Fellow
Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
Cambridge, Mass.

Tamera J. Hatfield
Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology
Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine
University of California, Irvine
Irvine

Helen H. Jensen
Professor of Economics, and
Chair
Food and Nutrition Policy Division of the Center for Agricultural & Rural Development (CARD)
Iowa State University
Ames

Rachel K. Johnson
Robert L. Bickford, Jr. Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition, and
Professor of Medicine
University of Vermont
Burlington

Angela M. Odoms-Young
Assistant Professor
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago

A. Catharine Ross1
Professor of Nutrition, and
Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair
Department of Nutritional Sciences
Pennsylvania State University
University Park

Charlene Russell-Tucker
Chief Operating Officer
Connecticut Department of Education
Middletown

Shannon E. Whaley
Director of Research and Evaluation
Public Health Foundation Enterprises WIC Program
Irwindale, Calif.

STAFF

Ann L. Yaktine
Study Director

1Member, National Academy of Sciences
2Member, Institute of Medicine

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