Now is not the time to cut WIC benefits for mothers and children in Ohio: Robert Murray and Marianne Smith Edge

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Eating habits established early in life impact health throughout life. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote healthy eating habits from birth to help reduce diet-related risk of chronic disease throughout life. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, is our most effective nutritional assistance program for more than 6 million low-income, at-risk pregnant women and their children.

However, Ohio is not reaping the full benefits that WIC can offer. Of those who are WIC-eligible, fewer than half are enrolled. Attendance has fallen by 50,000 people even as post-COVID food insecurity and economic instability increased. The trend is similar nationwide. Over the past five years, attendance at WIC has declined by almost a million participants.

WIC food packaging has evolved over time to meet the nutritional needs of the intended population. Updates in 2009 resulted in improved diets for participants. Obesity rates among WIC children under the age of 4 have steadily decreased.

But now the USDA has proposed more changes, some with potentially unintended consequences. One of them is the reduction of the monthly milk allowance.

Americans of all ages rarely meet the recommended daily allowance for milk and dairy products. Still, the USDA is proposing a significant reduction in the monthly allotment for WIC participants. A pregnant woman with two children under the age of 5 can lose up to 3 gallons of milk per month, depending on the ages of her children. Rather than improving diet quality, reducing milk will make WIC infants and mothers even less likely to meet dietary guidelines recommendations.

dr Robert Murray is a retired professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.

Why the concern? Dairy products contain 13 essential nutrients and offer the highest quality protein, equivalent to eggs. Dairy products are a source of three of the nutrients of concern mentioned in the dietary guidelines – calcium, vitamin D and potassium. After young children are weaned from breast milk or formula and their first foods are introduced, milk provides a solid nutritional foundation due to its balanced composition of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and its complex mix of vitamins and minerals. These are vital for rapid growth.

There is no “nutritional equivalence” between plant-based “milk” and cow’s milk. (Currently, WIC only accepts soy-fortified beverages for allergy sufferers). Pediatric expert panels have clearly stated that the low protein quality and poor nutritional composition of such alternative plant-based drinks will not support the rapid growth of young children.

Marianne Smith Edge

Marianne Smith Edge is an Associate Assistant Professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky and Past President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Ohio has strong national voices that can help protect mothers and children. Lately, US Rep. Max Miller, a Rocky River Republican, joined more than 25 members of the US House of Representatives in sending a bipartisan letter to the USDA opposing the WIC milk cuts.

But more is needed. Senator Sherrod Brown sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Governor Mike DeWine is one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for children.

Now is the time to contact your members of Congress to uphold and promote the nutritional value of WIC to 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, Associate Associate Professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky, is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and past President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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