ST. PAUL, MINN. — The Cereals & Grains Association partnered with General Mills, Minneapolis, earlier this year for a roundtable discussion on the benefits and implications of increasing whole grains in WIC food packages. Today, WIC participants number more than 6 million per month, and 43% of children in the United States receive WIC benefits. 

“Partnering with General Mills to assemble this panel of experts informed our science agenda and messaging on this topic,” said Amy Hope, chief executive officer of Cereals & Grains Association. “This collaboration is key to enriching our community in a tangible and equitable way, and our end goal is to provide information that allows consumers to make healthier choices with their diet.”

The panel discussion was recently reported in the peer-review journal Cereal Chemistry by Joanne L. Slavin, Lisa M. Sanders and Virginia A. Stallings. The paper highlights several key recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) report in 2017, such as adopting a whole grain-rich definition for breakfast cereals in WIC food packages. Such a move to offer only whole grain breakfast cereals would bring WIC food packages in line with requirements already in place in other federal feeding programs such as the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. 

Currently 93% of children and 100% of women in the WIC program do not meet the recommended intake of whole grains, and WIC food packages require only half of the breakfast cereals to be whole grains, despite NASEM recommendations. 

In the panel discussion, experts discussed how shifting WIC food packages to only whole grain-rich cereals could raise costs. However, the health economic research concluded that the health care savings may more than offset those prices.

Another concern raised was that allowing only whole grain cereals could limit the availability of culturally relevant corn or rice cereals, but the panelists concluded that such a requirement could enable the inclusion of whole grain corn and rice cereals. 

The NASEM report noted that children participating in school lunch and breakfast programs saw an improved intake of whole grains since these programs began requiring more whole grain-rich foods. The paper demonstrated the potential impact public policy such as increasing whole grain requirements for WIC food packages could have on the nutrient intake of at-risk populations.