Childcare agencies and parents should encourage healthy lifestyles among children with extra emphasis on proper nutrition and physical fitness. And, as far as proper nutrition goes, pediatricians often advise expectant mothers to breastfeed their babies because this gives infants the right balance of nutrients and, with the assistance of vaccinations, helps their immune systems develop.
Many organizations offer activities and materials that provide nutrition information and facts in fun, interesting ways. One such federal program, the Women, Infants and Children Food/Nutrition Program, also has been offering supplemental foods to low-income families for more than 30 years. The Food and Nutrition Service administers WIC at the federal level and provides funds to state agencies for implementation. At the state level, the Department of Community Health, the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Maternal and Child Health Program and the Office of Nutrition administer the program.
WIC was created to improve nutritional deficiencies that can affect the growth and development in certain population groups — infants, young children, pregnant and lactating women. Georgia’s WIC program is the nation’s fifth-largest program and provides benefits to 303,000 participants each month.
Georgia has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. Good nutrition and regular prenatal care during pregnancy, and good nutrition and preventive health care for infants are essential in preventing death and disability. There currently are 3,684 participants in the Georgia WIC program in Liberty County, including breastfeeding mothers, babies, infants, children and pregnant women.
WIC participants receive food vouchers to redeem for specific foods each month. These are foods that are supposed to supplement diets — items that are high in one or more of the following nutrients: protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Data show that these nutrients frequently are lacking in the diets of the program’s target population. Different food packages are provided for participants in different categories.
In addition to supplemental nutritious foods, clients receive nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics, screening and referrals to other health services and breastfeeding support and counseling.
WIC foods include iron-fortified infant formula (for mothers who opt not to breastfeed) and infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit and/or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried beans or peas, tuna fish and carrots. Special infant formulas and certain medical foods may be provided when prescribed by a physician or health-care professional for a specified medical condition.
WIC is a short-term program with participants “graduating” at the end of one or more certification periods. A certification period is the time a WIC participant is eligible for benefits. Depending on whether the individual is pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding or an infant or child, an eligible individual usually receives WIC benefits for six months to a year, at which time she/he must reapply.
To be eligible for WIC, applicants must meet the following requirements:
• Categorical: Pregnant women (through pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth or after pregnancy ends); breastfeeding women (up to infant’s first birthday); non-breastfeeding postpartum women (up to six months after the birth of an infant or after pregnancy ends); infants (up to first birthday); and children up to their fifth birthday.
• Residential: Georgia applicants must live in this state and are required to live in a local service area to apply at a WIC clinic that serves that area.
• Income: To be eligible on the basis of income, an applicants’ gross income (before taxes are withheld) must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines.
• Nutrition risk: This means that an individual has medical-based or dietary-based conditions. Examples of medical-based conditions include anemia, underweight or having history of poor pregnancy outcome. One example of a dietary-based condition would be a poor diet.
Some individuals are determined to be income-eligible for WIC because of certain other programs that they are eligible for. This is known as automatic income eligibility and includes individuals who are:
• eligible to receive food stamps, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,
• in a family in which certain members are eligible for Medicaid or TANF,
• eligible to participate in certain other state-administered programs.
For information about WIC clinics in your area or to schedule an appointment, contact the local health department at 876-2173.
Information for this article was obtained from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Public Information website, but you can find great information about WIC services in Liberty County by going to the Coastal Health District’s website at gachd.org.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.