Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

Woman, Infants and Children: Good Food for Everyone
October 8, 2009
Ada Barros-Heiser, Health Educator & Cheryl Boney, Director Public Health Programs

It is now widely accepted that the U.S. is in the middle of an obesity epidemic. At the same time, many Americans go to bed every night without enough to eat. How does an epidemic of obesity and hunger co-exist? Researchers have found the primary contributing factor to both is poverty.

To combat hunger in the U.S., federal food assistance programs such as food stamps, school breakfast and lunch programs, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program were established. Since their inception, these programs have helped in alleviating hunger for many families in the U.S.

Yolo County, initiated its WIC program in 1979. Operated out of the Yolo County Health Department, WIC provides nutrition and food assistance services to low-income families in Yolo County with pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers, infants and children up to the age of five who are at nutritional risk. Yolo County’s WIC services include nutrition counseling and classes, breastfeeding promotion and support, referrals to health and social services, and checks that can be used to buy specific foods.

Recently, the federal WIC program redesigned its food packages. This is the first major change to the foods that WIC provides since the program began in 1974. These changes significantly expand the diversity of nutritious foods offered to program participants. WIC participants will now receive fruits and vegetables and whole wheat bread and grains in addition to the milk, cheese, eggs and other foods that have always been offered. The new WIC options emphasize reduced-fat dairy products and also include tofu and soy beverage as an alternative to milk. Additionally, there is a greater variety in the WIC offerings to accommodate the cultural food preferences of WIC participants.

In Yolo County, these changes will benefit the 5,250 women, infants and children currently in the WIC program. It will also benefit local farmers as it is expected to boost sales of fruits and vegetables in Yolo County grocery stores. These changes mean that stores authorized to participate in the WIC program, which previously did not sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy items, especially those in Yolo County’s rural communities, will now expand their offerings to be compliant with the new WIC requirements. This is a benefit to all Yolo County residents, beyond those in the WIC program.

The WIC program has shown a health care cost savings of $3 for every $1 spent on the program. This is even more critical now as demand for services has increased with the declining economy. A year ago the number of Yolo County participants was 4,950. This coming year, the Yolo County Health Department expects to reach 5,650 Yolo County residents, an increase of 700 who need help accessing healthy food for their families. Each food package is worth an average of $64 per month in healthy foods for the women and children who participate in the program. This translates into a savings of $16 million annually in health care cost in Yolo County.

Through education and access to healthy foods, the Yolo County Health Department’s WIC program will continue to provide our youngest and most vulnerable a healthy start in an effort to end hunger. For more information about Yolo County’s WIC program, call (530) 666-8445 or visit www.yolohealth.org.