January 9, 2008 | By: Katie Pratt
LEXINGTON, Ky.

When changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are implemented in Kentucky, those who closely work with the program at the state level and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture say they will be beneficial for the program’s participants.

The changes, which revise the food list to add more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and reduce dairy and egg products, are the first major changes to the WIC program since 1978. They are based on a report by the Institute of Medicine that focused on the nutritional needs of WIC participants. About 135,000 Kentuckians participate in the WIC program.

Even though the changes were announced in December, states have the option of choosing when to implement the new regulations into their programs as long as the changes are implemented by Oct. 1, 2009, said Emma Walters, dietitian consultant for the Kentucky Department of Public Health. She said no date has been set for the state to implement the changes to its program, but Kentuckians participating in WIC will not likely see changes until after Sept. 30 when the current food list expires. 

Jackie Walters, UK nutrition education program specialist and registered dietitian, said when the changes first take effect, it may be difficult to get some participants to buy into the program, because there have not been significant changes to the program in three decades. But the changes will provide a healthier food package.

“It should have been done sooner,” she said. “I think the childhood obesity epidemic was a major factor in the decision making process. It’s beginning to be scary. Studies have shown children living in poverty have higher obesity rates than those from more affluent families. We were letting the kids down, and it was time to look at it again.”

Emma Walters said many of the participants she’s talked to are optimistic about the changes.

“Our clients are interested in getting the new foods, but this is a huge change,” she said. “We are trying to make sure it is implemented correctly.”

Jackie Walters said while the changes are beneficial, participants that live in areas that receive a constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables will benefit more from the changes than some Kentucky participants who live in the more rural areas of the state where fresh fruits and vegetables are not readily available year round. These participants may have a harder time adjusting to the changes because of availability and price, she said. In some instances, the fruits and vegetables that are available can be expensive when compared to unhealthier choices.

“It’s hard for some families to make this stuff work,” she said. “I had one woman tell me that she knows apples are healthier for her children, but a bag of apples will only last a couple of days at her house. For the same price, she can buy several boxes of (snack cakes) and feed her kids for a week.”

While fresh fruits and vegetables may be a hard find for some, under federal regulations WIC participants will have the option to purchase canned and frozen vegetables, Emma Walters said. She said participants will benefit from the added nutrition and variety available from all forms of fruits and vegetables.

Contact: 

Jackie Walters, 859-257-2948 ext. 80320