COLUMN: WIC program provides nutritional food, education

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By Diana Leathers

If you are pregnant, recently had a baby, are breastfeeding or have a child under the age of 5, you may be eligible for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program. 

The WIC Program was established by the United States Department of Agriculture over 35 years ago to ensure that pregnant women receive nutritious foods to promote growth and development of their babies and themselves. In Kentucky, the program is administered by local health departments. 

The program supplies food instruments for milk, cheese, eggs, iron fortified cereal, vitamin C rich juice, and peanut butter or dried beans/peas to pregnant, post-partum or breastfeeding women and children up to the age of 5. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, brown rice or whole wheat tortillas have also been added to the program.  

Infants are supplied with iron-fortified formula, cereal and jars of infant fruits and vegetables until age one. The allowed food items are rich in one or more of the following nutrients: protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. 

An important aspect of the WIC Program is the nutrition education the participants receive for themselves and their children. 

According to WIC Coordinator Josey Crew, R.D.,L.D., “Proper nutrition combined with other appropriate health services helps maintain health and promote normal growth and development. Optimal nutrition is vital for both the physical and intellectual growth of children, especially during their early years.”

Eligibility is determined by both income and nutritional risk. People who receive Medicaid or Food Stamps automatically meet the WIC income guidelines.  Once a person is determined to be financially eligible for WIC, a nutritional risk must be identified.

Some of the nutritional risks for women include teenage pregnancy, smoking, being under or over weight, anemia, inadequate diet, inappropriate weight gain pattern, miscarriage, premature birth or preterm labor. Nutritional risks for children include anemia, low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), at risk for or overweight, at risk for or underweight, inappropriate weight gain pattern, or inadequate diet. Risk factors for infants include premature birth, low birth weight, at risk for underweight or overweight, second hand smoke, or inadequate diet.

Studies show that many serious health problems can be prevented with proper nutrition during pregnancy and within the first few years of life. Early nutritional care can help eliminate or reduce both financial and physical costs that may appear later in life. 

Several Kentucky health indicators have improved in part because of the WIC Program. Some improved outcomes attributed to WIC are fewer premature births, fewer low or very low birth weight infants and fewer infant deaths. Children on WIC are more likely to be current with immunizations, exhibit improved growth rates, have lower rates of iron deficiency anemia and have a regular source of medical care. WIC also helps get children ready to start school: children who receive WIC demonstrate improved intellectual development.

To find out if you or your children are eligible for WIC contact the LaRue County Health Department at 270-358-3844.