Background: With nearly 49,000 authorized retailers nationwide, a policy change that added fruits and vegetables (FV) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages in 2009 had the potential to expand neighborhood FV availability.
Purpose: This study examined changes in availability and selection of commonly consumed and culturally specific FV at authorized retailers (WIC vendors) before and after implementation of the revised WIC food packages.
Methods: Quasi-experimental, one-group design with two pre-policy observations and one post-policy observation. Trained observers assessed a list of fresh, frozen, and canned FV at each vendor in seven northern Illinois counties. Eight indices of FV availability and selection were derived. Multiple regression estimated relationships. Data were collected in 2008–2010 and analyzed in 2011.
Results: Overall, availability and selection of commonly consumed fresh FV and availability of African-American culturally specific fresh FV improved after implementation of the new policy. Modest improvements in the overall availability of canned low-sodium vegetables and frozen FV were observed. Changes differed by vendor type (large vendor, small vendor, and pharmacy). Changes in availability or selection did not differ by neighborhood characteristics (population density, median household income, racial/ethnic composition).
Conclusions: Expansion of WIC foods was associated with small positive externalities on the food environment. Larger subsidies to create more demand and more-substantial stocking requirements for retailers may yield significantly larger improvements and thus warrant further investigation. Approaches targeting rural, low-income, and racial/ethnic minority neighborhoods also may be needed.
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