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WIC program increasing access to healthy foods in community

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For more than 16 years, San Juan Basin Public Health has housed the local Women, Infants, and Children program with services available in Durango, Pagosa Springs and Ignacio.

WIC is a federally funded, income-based program administered at the state level by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. WIC agencies across the state provide eligible families with debit cards to buy healthy foods, nutrition and breastfeeding education, and referrals to other community resources for low-income mothers and children. Additionally, the SJBPH WIC program has received additional funding from the Colorado Health Foundation to research and implement innovative ways to reach and better serve local families who are eligible but not enrolled in the program.

WIC is a pillar of healthy food access for low-income families and has been shown to improve nutrition for both mothers and children. WIC focuses on teaching proper nutrition habits early, starting in pregnancy and early childhood. SJBPH acknowledges that while living in a rural community can be incredibly rewarding, it is not without costs. Common issues such as transportation, access to health care and a lack of affordable housing are faced by community members on a frequent, if not constant, basis. In addition to these challenges, a daunting reality is being brought to light: Our region struggles with food insecurity.

Food insecurity is understood as a lack of access to enough food to fully meet one’s basic needs. Data show that more than 12 percent of the residents in both Archuleta and La Plata counties regularly face food insecurity. This issue specifically affects the children in our community, with about 21 percent of the children in Archuleta County and 19 percent of the children in La Plata County facing challenges in accessing healthy food. The inability to access nutritious food because of poverty is the main reason people face food insecurity.

Related to food insecurity is the issue of food inequity. Food inequity refers to the adverse effects of both the production and distribution of food marginalized communities face. Studies have shown that the lower a family’s income, the higher the likelihood of childhood obesity. There is also an association between people living in poverty, childhood obesity and lower intake of micronutrients such as iron, calcium and B6. The theory behind this is that energy-dense foods are much less expensive than nutrient-dense foods, forcing families to choose between foods they can afford and foods that are high in essential nutrients.

The WIC program at SJBPH works to overcome food insecurity and food inequity by providing access to healthy food to eligible pregnant and postpartum women, and infants and children younger than age 5, through its easy-to-use eWIC card. WIC’s nutrition package provides the micronutrients many of its clients do not have access to because of food insecurity and inequity. Additionally, WIC empowers its clients by providing education about healthy foods and breastfeeding, as well as connecting them with other community resources providing free or low-cost produce, cooking classes and more.

Food access and healthy diets are essential at all stages of life, but especially for new mothers and young children. WIC supports local families by decreasing food insecurity, increasing knowledge about healthy eating habits and helping families build a foundation for kids to grow up strong and healthy.

Every family deserves healthy, affordable foods, and WIC continues to decrease barriers families face in getting those foods to their table through partnering with community organizations and implementing modern tools to access benefits.

For more information about the WIC program, visit sjbpublichealth.org/wic. Mothers are eligible to participate in the WIC program if they are pregnant, breastfeeding and/or if they have a child younger than 5. Fathers, foster parents and other caregivers are encouraged to participate in WIC, too.

Jenny Pritchard is WIC program manager at San Juan Basin Public Health.

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