Update for WIC food program

In an effort to encourage mothers and their children to adopt a healthier lifestyle a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies plans some changes to its WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), which was launched in 1974 as a nutrition program for low-income women, infants, and children.

Inkeeping with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is promoted as well as breast-feeding.

The revisions are the most substantial ones ever made since WIC was first launched.

Suzanne P. Murphy research professor at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and author of the report says greater scientific knowledge about nutrition and the links between nutrition and chronic diseases along with an obesity epidemic make the changes timely and bring WIC up to date with current nutritional guidelines.

WIC one of the largest nutrition programs in the U S serves about 50% of all U.S. infants and 25% of children ages 1 to 4 and their mothers. The costs of providing supplemental food to 7.6 million participants a month totalled $4.7 billion in 2003, is delivered in many areas as itemized vouchers or checks for use to obtain specific foods at participating grocery outlets and have changed very little since the initiation of the program 30 years ago.

WIC participants will now be given vouchers or coupons for fresh produce totalling $10 per month for each woman and $8 a month per child, equating to one to two servings of fruits and vegetables a day. When access to fresh produce is limited processed equivalents can be given.

The addition of fruit and vegetable baby foods for infants 6 months and older, and baby food meats is also proposed. In line with current nutritional views cereals and other semi-solid foods will be given when infants reach 6 months and only whole-grain varieties are advised.

The food packages should also provide whole-grain bread or brown rice, among other options.

With a eye on cost the committee recommends reducing the amount of juice, eggs, cheese, and milk offered through the program, in line again with current dietary guidance, such as the American Academy of Paediatrics' recommendation that young children drink no more than 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice per day, and the American Heart Association's recommendation that people limit their intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat.

Low fat milk will be offered to women and children over age 2 to reduce saturated fat intake, and the amount of cheese provided reduced to no more than 1 pound monthly.

Mothers who breast-feed will receive packages which include more milk, eggs, cheese, and whole grains than women who formula-feed and older infants who are given no formula will receive twice the amount of baby food fruits and vegetables than the packages for older infants who receive formula.

It is recommended that more choice and a broader variety of food options be given and more allowance be made for cultural preferences.

The committee concluded that the proposed changes should be possible without raising the total cost of the food packages, the average monthly cost per participant currently is estimated to be about $35, which would be approximately the same for the revised packages if all the changes are made. They recommend that the changes be tested in pilot programs before being implemented nationwide.

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