Public Health: WIC an underused resource

Published 8:58 am Thursday, August 5, 2010

Even though the economic downturn continues to rain financial hardships down on residents of Southwest Health District, enrollment in a nutritional program that provides supplemental foods to low income families is experiencing a drop in enrollment.

“We are seeing approximately 1,000 fewer participants than last year at this time,” said Southwest Health District Nutrition Services Director Teresa Graham, who oversees the 30-year-old Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. “This trend is obviously a matter of concern.”

She said that the caseload drop in Southwest Health District is reflected across both the state and region.

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“The decline is also being reported in other southeastern state WIC programs.”

While officials are not sure what is causing the drop in participation, they are promoting the WIC program to reach out to at-risk families to raise awareness of the resource.

“In these bad economic times, families that may never have qualified might qualify now due to a lay-off, a reduction in pay, a furlough and so on,” said Southwest Health District Deputy Director Brenda Greene. “They may not know this resource is available simply by going to their county health department and signing up.”

WIC serves women and children in families with income at or below 185 percent of the federally-defined poverty level (currently $40,793 for a family of four) who are at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

Participant categories include pregnant, postpartum and breast-feeding women and infants and children up to their fifth birthday.

Someone who participates or has family members who participate in certain other benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, automatically meets the income eligibility requirement, Graham said.

WIC services include nutrition assessment, health screening, medical history, body measurement (weight and height), hemoglobin check, nutritional education, breast-feeding support and education and vouchers for healthy food, Graham said.

Last year at this time, the district’s total WIC participation was 14,578, while this year, participation has fallen to 13,541, she said.

“Taking advantage of WIC can make a huge difference in participants’ lives,” Graham said. “Research shows WIC reduces fetal death and infant mortality and increases both birth weight rates and the duration of pregnancy.”

Other benefits include:

 Improved growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and children;

 Decreased incidence of iron deficiency anemia in children;

 Improved dietary intake of pregnant and postpartum women and improved weight gain in pregnant women;

 Earlier prenatal care;

 Children who are more likely to receive regular health care and up-to-date immunizations;

 Children who are better prepared to start school and show improved intellectual development;

 Significantly improved children’s diets.

For more information about WIC, contact your county health department or go online to

Carolyn Maschke is a risk communications/public information officer with the Georgia Health District 8, Unit 2 in Albany, Ga. She can be reached by calling (229) 430-1969 or e-mailing her at