Every day of my childhood began with orange juice. My mom bought cardboard cans of frozen concentrate at the grocery store, and one of the first tasks my sister and I learned in the kitchen was squishing the freezing, sticky goop into a plastic pitcher, adding two cans of water, and stirring the whole concoction together. It was the 1980s, and OJ was considered a good way to get our daily vitamin C.
Since then, nutritionists’ thinking has changed. Daily consumption of fruit juice has been linked with childhood obesity and dental cavities, and kids are thought to be better off getting their vitamins from whole fruits. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans now say children should drink no more than half to three-quarters of a cup of fruit juice per day, and eat whole fruit if possible instead.
Yet some health policies haven’t kept up. In a viewpoint publishing today in JAMA Pediatrics, Stanford public-health advocate Jason Nagata, MD, and colleagues describe how the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is probably providing kids with too much juice.
WIC is one of the most widely used nutrition programs in the country: Its food vouchers give a needed boost to the diets of pregnant women, new moms, babies and young kids whose households are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line. WIC serves 8 million people per month and helps more than half of U.S. children at some point before they turn 5, so it’s important that they get their nutrition policies right.
The problem, say the Stanford experts, is that WIC’s juice vouchers provide children the maximum recommended daily amount of fruit juice every day — more, really, than kids should be consuming — and these vouchers can’t be used to purchase whole fruit. Kids also get fruit-and-veggie vouchers, but these are worth only $8 per month. Nagata and his colleagues advocate for letting juice vouchers be used for fresh produce to try to boost kids’ consumption of the most nutritious foods.
The National Academy of Medicine is currently reviewing the rules for WIC food packages, the viewpoint notes, and is soliciting comments online.
As for me, I haven’t stirred up one of those cans of frozen-concentrate in years. I don’t really miss my daily OJ, but I do feel sort of nostalgic for the crunchy sound of the ice crystals being mashed in our old Tupperware pitcher with a wooden spoon.
- Erin Digitale
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