Ensuring High-Quality Nutrition For Healthy Babies
Apr 13, 2009
The early years of life are a period of rapid growth and development; and one of the basic building blocks that every young child needs during this time is adequate nutrition. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), one of several federal nutrition programs, provides access to nutritious foods, nutrition education, and improved health care for vulnerable mothers and young children with or at risk of malnutrition. WIC is a significant source of preventative support for our youngest children. According to the National WIC Association, over half of infants and one quarter of children, ages one to five, receive WIC assistance.
WIC receipt has positive impacts on the physical and cognitive development of young children. Children s HealthWatch finds that children under age three who receive WIC assistance are more likely to be food secure and at a normal weight and height than children eligible for WIC but not receiving assistance. They are also less likely to be at risk for developmental delays. Moreover, WIC assistance is getting healthier. In response to concerns over the nutritional quality and lack of variety in foods provided in WIC food packages, the USDA released new regulations that improve their nutritional standards. The new regulations add healthier food items, such as whole grains and low-fat milk, into the food packages and increase food options for recipients. States also have the ability to include more culturally appropriate foods, such as rice instead of bread, as needed.
Despite the importance of WIC, less than two-thirds of young children eligible for WIC are actually enrolled. Access to healthy meals is even more important due to rising rates of obesity and other health-related problems among children, even in the early years. A recent study finds that nearly two in ten 4-year-olds in the U.S. are obese (18 percent). The obesity rate varies among racial/ethnic groups: 31 percent of Native American children, 22 percent of Hispanic children, and 21 percent of African American children are obese. Research by Children s HealthWatch finds that for some populations, there is a prevalence of both food insecurity and obesity/overweight. One reason is that cheaper foods that are more affordable to low-income families are often low in nutrients and high in calories. Other factors that form pathways between poverty and obesity include lower education levels, inadequate healthcare, and lack of safe places to exercise.
Unfortunately, the economic downturn has had a detrimental effect on families abilities to secure sufficient food for their families. Rising food costs, coupled with unemployment trends and stretched families budgets, mean that more children may be in families in need of nutrition assistance. Seventeen percent of all children are considered food insecure, but many more lack access to ample, nutritious food. The federal child nutrition programs, including WIC, the National School Lunch program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, are due for reauthorization this year. This is an important opportunity to ensure adequate support for these critical programs so that more children have access to the nutritious food they need for healthy development