09/14/09 — WIC program offers families healthier choices

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WIC program offers families healthier choices

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 14, 2009 1:49 PM

Healthier foods will enhance the food plan offered through the Health Department's Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program starting next month.

Effective Oct. 1, the voucher- driven program will feature more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. The changes reflect concerns about childhood obesity and other problems related to poor diet.

This is the first major change in the WIC food package since 1992, said Jenny Sharpless, director of the nutrition program.

With an estimated 4,534 clients participating in the supplemental program each month, the program not only helps families during challenging economic times, she said, but in offering them healthier choices.

Originally, she said, WIC foods were meant to eliminate vitamin deficiencies. The latest modifications, however, are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recommendations of American Pediatrics.

With the changes, the food package will feature more high-fiber, low-sugar choices. Among the added choices will be tofu, brown rice, tortillas and a wider variety of beans as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Unlike the food stamp program, WIC provides vouchers with specific recommendations. The program caters to women who are breastfeeding, post partum up to six months, and includes infants and children up to age 5.

"The foods that we prescribe in the past have been higher in vitamin C, protein, calcium," Ms. Sharpless said. "Now that it's been looked at, the new food package is going to increase fiber and whole grains, to promote growth and development for healthy pregnant women and children."

What makes the WIC program unique is the personalized guidance offered to clients.

"One of the components is to speak with a nutritionist," Ms. Sharpless said. "They get general counseling, to work out the foods, so the WIC voucher is actually a food prescription."

Among the "approved foods" covered under the voucher system are cereal, whole grains, juice, milk and cheese, tofu, eggs, peanut butter, beans and peas, tuna and salmon, fruits and vegetables. Baby formula is also included, with infant cereal and now jar baby food being added.

WIC staff began training to prepare for the new system earlier this year. So far, Ms. Sharpless said, it has been well-received by both staff and clients.

"A lot of our clients are really looking forward to the changes, and we're looking forward to them because it's backing up our teachers and counselors," she said.

The new food package is also expected to benefit children and local vendors participating in the voucher program.

With an estimated 2,257 children served each month, Ms. Sharpless said, "We try to catch them young to that they will learn healthy eating habits."

Clients are seen every three months, during which time mothers visit a nutritionist for counseling and receive vouchers.

"It's different from food stamps -- where you can get $50 worth of potato chips if you want," Ms. Sharpless said. "With WIC, you can only get what's on this voucher and these foods are going to be healthy and promote health. It steers the client in the right direction."

There are other advantages, she noted -- better health leads to a reduction in medical expenses.

"WIC also affects Wayne County's economy," she said. "We have 24 vendors that have agreed to accept the WIC vouchers -- a lot of mom and pop stores that wouldn't be open if they didn't accept the WIC vouchers. Vendors have brought in, just by accepting the WIC vouchers, $3.5 million in Wayne County. That allows the stores to hire cashiers, stock people."

With the expanded food list, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, local vendors will be able to stock even more provisions for customers, she said.

In addition to nutritional information and recipe books, clients are given a list of stores where the vouchers are accepted. In addition to the store vendors, clients can visit the Goldsboro WIC office, located behind the Health Dept. on Simmons Street, and the two satellite clinics, in Mount Olive and at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

For more information, contact the Goldsboro WIC office, Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. at 731-1276.