Since the 2009 regulation that made cash value vouchers available to participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the vouchers have been redeemable for fruits and vegetables so that participating women and children can obtain specific nutrients that might be lacking in their diets. The white potato has been excluded, however, as a vegetable eligible for purchase.
WIC requires that the program's food package align with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are revised every five years. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, USDA should allow the purchase of white potatoes with the voucher, according to a recent Academies report. A change in the guidelines from 2005 to 2010 increased the recommended amounts of starchy vegetables 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, however, children and women are only eating about 64 percent and 56 percent, respectively, of the recommended amounts. In fact, WIC participants' intakes of all vegetable subgroups could be improved, determined the study committee that wrote the report.
For low-income children, consumption of vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber fall short, and for low-income women, intakes of seven nutrients -- vitamins C and D, calcium, potassium, iron, folate, and dietary fiber -- need substantial improvement. White potatoes are particularly high in potassium, so eating the recommended amounts of them may help reduce shortfalls of potassium in the diets of both children and women. Also, allowing the purchase of white potatoes would offer WIC participants more ways to meet their preferences -- or at minimum would likely not reduce them.
In 2006, the Institute of Medicine issued the report WIC Food Packages: A Time for Change, which used the 2005 Dietary Guidelines to conclude that white potatoes should be excluded as a WIC-eligible vegetable. However the basis for their exclusion no longer applies, the committee said, because the 2010 recommendations for starchy vegetables increased. If relevant changes occur to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the latest recommendation should be re-evaluated.
-- Jennifer Walsh