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Missouri's WIC program encouraging healthier habits for healthier babies

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The WIC program provides food and nutrition information to women and their children.
Missouri's WIC program is changing to encourage more women to breastfeed their babies and help fight obesity, one of the nation's fastest growing health concerns.

Each month, more than 148,000 women, infants and children in Missouri participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC. The program provides food and nutrition information at no cost to qualifying low-income women and their children.

New food choices for women and children will include healthier options such as fresh fruits and vegetables, soy milk, tofu and a variety of whole grain foods such as whole wheat bread.

Under the new guidelines, which take effect Oct. 1, the WIC program will increase the amount of food provided to mothers who breastfeed their babies full-time to better promote and support the establishment of successful long-term breastfeeding.

These are the first major changes for WIC in more than 30 years. Health officials say the new food choices and the focus on breastfeeding will help improve the health of many Missourians.

"Breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both babies and moms," Lynn Konstant, Missouri WIC director, said. "Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months and reduces the risk of allergies, asthma, diabetes and certain childhood cancers."

Breastfeeding also helps a new mother lose the weight she gained during pregnancy and helps her uterus return to normal size, Konstant said. Babies who are breastfed have lower rates of obesity as they grow older.

"This new focus is coming at a time when childhood obesity is one of our greatest public health challenges," Konstant said. "These changes will support healthy lifestyles beginning in pregnancy and early childhood when lifelong health habits are being formed."

The revised food packages add new food categories and offer optional substitutions for some of the current food categories. The changes are intended to better meet the needs of the wide range of WIC participants.

Under the new rules WIC clients can purchase whole grains and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Beginning at six months, all infants receive infant fruits and vegetables, while fully breastfed infants also receive infant meats. Soy milk and tofu may be given as an alternative to milk with medical documentation. Canned beans are offered as an alternative to dry beans. The amount of milk, eggs, juice and cheese is reduced for women and children. Juice is eliminated for infants. The amount of infant formula is reduced for partially breastfed and older infants.

"The new food packages are lower in fat and cholesterol, higher in fiber and limit added sugar and sodium," Konstant said. "These new options should help WIC participants improve their diet and maintain a healthy weight."

In Missouri, 43.5 percent of mothers who gave birth in 2008 received WIC services. More than half of all infants born in Missouri receive WIC services during their first year of life.

WIC services in Missouri are provided by 118 local agencies, including county and city health departments. Clinics providing WIC services are offered at 250 locations across the state. Services include nutrition education, counseling, health screening and risk assessment, breastfeeding promotion and support, referrals to health care providers and social service agencies and food assistance.

To qualify for the WIC program, participants must visit a local WIC clinic to have their nutritional health status assessed by a health professional, provide proof of identity and residence in Missouri and meet certain income requirements. A family of four can qualify for the program with an income up to $3,400 per month.

For more information, contact a local WIC provider or visit the Missouri health department's WIC Web site at http://www.dhss.mo.gov/wic.

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