Columbus, Ohio — Eating patterns established in early life affect health throughout life. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote healthy eating patterns from birth to help reduce the risk of diet-related chronic diseases throughout the life course. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrition Program, 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, high-risk pregnant women and their babies. children.
However, Ohio failed to take full advantage of all that the WIC program had to offer. Among those eligible for WIC, less than half are enrolled. Participation decreased by 50,000 individuals, even as food insecurity and economic instability rose post-COVID. Nationally, the trend is similar. In the past five years, participation in WIC has decreased by about 1 million participants.
WIC food packages have evolved over time to meet the nutritional needs of the target population. Updates in 2009 improved nutrition for participants. Obesity rates for WIC children under the age of four have declined steadily.
But now, the USDA has proposed more changes, some of which potentially have unintended consequences. The first is to reduce the monthly allowance for dairy products.
Americans of all ages rarely stick to the recommended daily amounts of milk and dairy products. However, the USDA proposes a significant reduction in the monthly allowance for WIC participants. A pregnant woman with two children under the age of five can lose up to 3 gallons of milk per month, depending on the age of her children. Instead of improving diet quality, reducing milk will make WIC babies and mothers less likely to meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines.
Why worry? Dairy products contain 13 essential nutrients and provide a high-quality protein equivalent to eggs. Dairy products are a source of three of the nutrients of concern mentioned by the Dietary Guidelines – calcium, vitamin D and potassium. After young babies are weaned off breast milk or infant formula, and as first foods are introduced, milk provides a strong nutritional foundation, due to its balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and its complex blend of vitamins and minerals. These are necessary to maintain rapid growth.
There is no “nutritional equivalent” between “plant milk” and dairy milk. (Currently, the WIC only accepts fortified drinks that contain soy for individuals with allergies.) Pediatric expert panels have clearly stated that the low protein quality and poor nutrient composition of such alternative vegetable drinks will not support the rapid growth of young children.
Ohio has strong national voices that can help protect mothers and babies. newlyAnd Max Miller, a Rocky River Republican, has joined more than 25 members of the US House of Representatives in sending a bipartisan letter to the USDA opposing WIC dairy cuts.
But more is needed. Senator Sherrod Brown is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Governor Mike DeWine is one of the nation’s staunchest advocates for children’s rights.
Now is the time to call on members of Congress to preserve and enhance the nutritional value of WIC for all eligible women and children in Ohio.
Dr. Robert Murray, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University, pediatric nutritionist, and past president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Marian Smith Edge, RD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky, member of the American Dietetic Association, and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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