Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moms, Children Benefit from WIC Improvements

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Each month, the Utah Department of Health’s (UDOH) Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program serves an average of 66,000 clients, including moms, babies, and children up to age five. This month, the WIC program announced the results of a participant survey that shows 71% percent feel the services they receive are “excellent.”  More than a quarter (27%) rated the services as “good.”

WIC launched in Utah in 1972 and focused primarily on providing supplemental, nutritious food.  Today, WIC does that through vouchers used at grocery stores. WIC staff also offer nutrition education and counseling to low-income families, referrals to health care and social services, breastfeeding classes and breast pumps for nursing moms, and information on the dangers of smoking. Staff at local WIC clinics across the state regularly educate clients about proper nutrition, and work to help them better understand how to use their food vouchers.

The survey found that 97.1% of participants were aware of the breastfeeding classes. As well, 91.5% understood that peer counselors were available through WIC to support  breastfeeding moms. Peer counselors are breastfeeding mothers who were on WIC and were successful with breastfeeding, and who now share their expertise with other WIC moms. A separate, more recent report showed that 76% of mothers enrolled in WIC initiated breastfeeding statewide.

“Of course we’re thrilled with the survey results,” said WIC Manager Chris Furner, “but we’re most pleased with the fact that the program is helping to make those families’ lives better. The fact that overall satisfaction among WIC participants is as high as it is a testament to the great work that the 250 local WIC staff are doing across the state.”

The survey also asked clients what health changes their families have made since enrolling in the program. Seventy-one percent indicated eating more fruits and  vegetables. More than half (53%) reported eating more whole grain foods. Forty-one percent said they drink less soda and sugar-sweetened drinks, 30% said they are more physically active, and 31% say they now eat more low-fat food.

“Our WIC family members are leading healthy lives,” said Dr. Shaheen Hossain, lead author of the research report and Manager of the Data Resources Program. The survey results also show WIC participants are learning about nutrition and applying that information to make positive changes in their food choices as well as in their lifestyles.

“They are not only eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they are also spending more time eating as a family,” Hossain added.  “Parents with healthy lifestyles tend to teach and support healthy habits in their children.”  The nutritional education component provided by WIC appears to play a prominent role in promoting more healthful food choices.

In an effort to save money and provide services to more families, Utah WIC staff lobbied the federal government in 2010 to allow clients to purchase store brand foods instead of pricier name brands. The change was made, and since then a vast majority (84%) of respondents have indicated their satisfaction with the store brands now available.

“When our clients are happy, we’re happy,” said Furner. “But we also know there is always room for improvement. For example, nearly one in four clients said they “sometimes” or “never” buy all of the foods available on their vouchers, which means families are missing out on important nutrients.”  Furner adds that WIC staff will contact enrollees to help them understand the benefits of the healthy food packages and teach them how to use WIC foods in their meal planning.

For more information on the WIC program visit www.health.utah.gov/wic/. The survey report can be found at http://www.health.utah.gov/mch/.

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The mission of the Utah Department of Health is to protect the public's health through preventing avoidable illness, injury, disability and premature death, assuring access to affordable, quality health care, and promoting healthy lifestyles.