Governor announces significant changes to WIC program

Hundreds of local families benefit from the program and while its helped keep food on the tables and children fed something needed to be changed.

The foods provided by Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program have not changed significantly since its inception in 1974, despite new dietary recommendations to eat less fat, more fiber, fewer calories, fewer sweetened beverages and more vegetables and fruits.

With one third of WIC children obese, most of them black or Latino, and a large local Latino population, the Patrick administration became alarmed over the trend.

Last week, Governor Deval Patrick announced that Massachusetts has revamped its WIC program to reflect the latest science on healthy diets and address obesity. This is the first major change in food offerings to low-income women, infants and children in three decades and will offer whole grains, low-fat milk, baby foods, fruits and vegetables, as well as stronger support for breastfeeding moms and babies.

“This enhanced nutrition program will supply low-income mothers and young children across our Commonwealth with access to nourishing foods, giving them the ability to make the smart choices that will keep them strong and healthy,” said Patrick.

Since 1974, the federal WIC program has helped combat childhood hunger, low birth weight, under-nutrition and iron deficiency anemia so that WIC participants have better health outcomes. However, the foods provided by WIC have not changed significantly since its inception.

“Almost one-third of our children are overweight or obese, with higher rates among black and Hispanic children,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “WIC has a long history of success, and is a great place for nutrition education to start. This change is coming at a time when childhood obesity is one of our greatest public health challenges.”

The New Foods available to WIC are whole grain cereals, whole grain breads, canned or dried beans, brown rice, tortillas, tofu, jarred baby foods and cash-value checks to purchase vegetables and fruits.

“This exciting change advances WIC’s preventative public health nutrition role. WIC’s participation has been proven to reduce the national health care bill,” said Secretary Bigby. “In Massachusetts alone, for $1 invested in WIC, up to $3 is saved in Medicaid costs.”

In total, the new WIC foods are lower in fat and higher in fiber, and some substitutions are available to meet cultural preferences, with more options possible in the future.

These changes will help families meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Healthy People 2010 Objectives set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for infants.

WIC will continue to promote successful, long-term breastfeeding. The new WIC food package offers new incentives for fully breastfeeding mothers and infants, because breastfeeding is considered by the healthcare community to be the best way to provide nutrition to infants.

“Nearly 40% of all babies born in the Commonwealth access WIC services at some point in their infancy” said the WIC Director, Judy Hause. “The Massachusetts WIC Program is a national leader in nutrition innovation and we are confident that the needs of the 217,811 WIC participants we serve annually will be met by offering WIC families a wide variety of healthy, culturally appropriate and family friendly food choices.”

For more information contact the East Boston WIC office at 120 Liverpool Street, 617-568-6400.

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