Now is not the time to cut WIC benefits for Ohio mothers and children: Robert Murray and Marianne Smith Edge
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eating patterns established early in life affect health throughout life. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote healthy eating patterns from birth to help minimize the risk of diet-related chronic diseases throughout life. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, is our most effective food assistance program for more than 6 million pregnant women in at risk and low income and their families. children.
However, Ohio does not take full advantage of all that WIC can provide. Of those who are eligible for WIC, less than half are enrolled. Participation has dropped by 50,000 people, even as food insecurity and economic instability increased post-COVID. Nationally, the trend is similar. In the past five years, WIC participation has decreased by nearly one million participants.
WIC food packages have evolved over time to meet the nutritional needs of their target population. Updates in 2009 resulted in better nutrition for the participants. Obesity rates for WIC children under the age of 4 have been steadily declining.
But now, the USDA has proposed additional changes, some with potentially unintended consequences. One is the reduction of the monthly dairy allowance.
Americans of all ages rarely meet the recommended daily intake of milk and milk products. However, USDA is proposing a significant reduction in the monthly allowance for WIC participants. A pregnant woman with two children under the age of 5 could lose the equivalent of up to 3 gallons of milk per month, depending on the age of her children. Rather than improve the quality of the diet, reducing milk will make it even less likely that WIC children and mothers will meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendations..
Why the concern? Dairy contains 13 essential nutrients and offers the highest quality protein, equivalent to eggs. Dairy is a source of three of the nutrients of interest cited by the Dietary Guidelines: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. After young children are weaned from breast milk or infant formula, and when the first foods are introduced, milk provides a solid nutritional foundation, due to its balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and its complex mix of vitamins and minerals. These are vital to sustain rapid growth.
There is no “nutritional equivalence” between plant-based “milks” and cow’s milk. (Currently, WIC only accepts fortified soy-based beverages for allergy sufferers.) Pediatric expert panels have clearly stated that the low protein quality and poor nutrient composition of these alternative plant-based beverages will not support rapid growth in young children.
Ohio has strong national voices that can help protect mothers and children. Recently, US Representative Max Miller, Republican of Rocky River, joined more than 25 members of the US House of Representatives in sending a bipartisan letter to the USDA opposing the WIC dairy cuts.
But more is needed. Senator Sherrod Brown is on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Governor Mike DeWine is one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for children.
Now is the time to reach out to your members of Congress to preserve and promote the nutritional value of WIC for all eligible women and children in Ohio.
Dr. Robert Murray is a retired professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University, a specialist in pediatric nutrition, and past president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Marianne Smith Edge, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky, is a Fellow of the American Nutrition Society and Past President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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