Healthier foods available in neighborhoods

August 20, 2014 8:45 AM

Naomi King Englar
nking2@tulane.edu

Photo from the Mary Amelia Women’s Center at Tulane University

Feeding their families healthily is a priority for many women in New Orleans. According to the Prevention Research Center, studies show federal policies to increase healthy food access for WIC participants also has made healthier foods available to other families. (Photo from the Mary Amelia Women’s Center at Tulane University.)


“Residents now have healthier foods available in their neighborhoods.” — Keelia O’Malley, study author

Changes to the federal food assistance program for low-income women and their children improved the availability of healthy foods at small and medium-size stores in New Orleans, according to research from the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University.  

In 2009, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program for the first time began offering participants fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk and whole grain options to purchase with WIC benefits. The WIC program operates in 50,000 vendors nationwide with more than 9 million participants. 

“The policy to change the WIC food package was the first major change in a generation and essential to keep the program aligned with current nutritional guidelines,” says Diego Rose, study author and head of the nutrition concentration at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.  

Researchers examined foods sold in stores in the WIC program, as well as non-WIC stores. Findings published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior and Public Health Nutrition show increased availability of the new healthy foods after the WIC changes were made.

Researchers documented foods in 93 small stores in 2009 and 2010, before and after the change, because those stores are least likely to carry healthy foods. The number of WIC small stores carrying whole wheat bread and brown rice increased dramatically from 4 percent for both in 2009 to 70 percent and 93 percent, respectively, in 2010. 

The odds of finding improved availability of low-fat milk from 2009 to 2010 were five times greater in WIC stores than non-WIC stores. There were also changes in fruit and vegetable availability. WIC stores added about one new variety of fruit; they also showed a small increase in shelf space for vegetables, while non-WIC stores saw a decline. 

These papers document the effectiveness of policies to increase healthy food access for WIC participants as well as other residents in their neighborhoods, says Keelia O’Malley, study author and assistant director of the Prevention Research Center. 

Naomi King Englar is the communications and training coordinator for the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University and the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Program.


Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu