Healthy Food from Birth to Five
Hunger’s Impact On Our Children
Hungry infants and young children:
- experience delayed development, poorer attachment, and learning difficulties in the first two years of life
- are more likely to require hospitalization
- are at higher risk for chronic health conditions, such as anemia and asthma
- have more frequent instances of oral health problems
WIC (Special Supplemental Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children)
Good nutrition is vital to a healthy start to life. WIC is a “purchasing assistance program” that serves to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 through vouchers funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for select foods that follow its nutrition guidelines. The WIC program provides these foods to supplement diets, as well as information on healthy eating and health care referrals. WIC is administered by the Minnesota Dept. of Health.
In Minnesota, enrollment statistics for infants and children under about 2 years old are among the highest in the country. In 2012, the state enrolled 73 percent of those eligible, ranking it 4th in the country.
The challenge rests with retention, beginning when an infant reaches 9 months, even though they are eligible for WIC benefits up to just under age 5.
We calculate that there are about 167,805 Minnesota children currently eligible for WIC.
Keep infants and children enrolled in WIC beyond current drop-off age, with the potential to add 28 million additional meals
HUNGER IMPACT PARTNERS APPROACH: WORK TO RETAIN ELIGIBLE AND ENROLLED INFANTS AND CHILDREN
In conjunction with its partners, Hunger Impact Partners will:
- Coordinate with the MN Dept. of Health WIC staff to develop a retention methodology that will help refine the Child Nutrition Index and inform all those involved
- Re-position WIC as adding value to early childhood development
- Build a social media outreach plan to reach potential and current WIC participants
- Call on the healthcare system as a lever for retention through physician and nurse practitioner engagement
- Reach out to WIC participants through licensed child care centers and after-school programs
Case Study on Food from Birth to Five Initiative: WIC Retention
While WIC enrollment in Minnesota is 3rd highest in the nation—the state enrolled 71 percent of those eligible in 2013—that ranking is most true for infants and children under 2. Participants start dropping off at nine months. The under-use of WIC means that thousands of eligible children aren’t being served and $24.5 million in federal reimbursements are not claimed.
The program has proved effective in improving health nutrition and preventing health problems among the infants and young children.
“I like that it helps keep them on a healthy diet,” said one mom. “It is great to track their overall health and growing throughout the year.”
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC is a federal program that provides nutrition, education, supplemental food, breastfeeding promotion and support and health care referrals for low-income pregnant women, infants and children up to age 5. In Minnesota, the program is administered by the state Department of Health.
Challenge and Solution
Preventing a drop-off in WIC participation, particularly for children over nine months, is a key challenge.
WIC parents often cite multiple reasons for leaving WIC, including transportation and other logistical hurdles, perceived stigma for participants and complex transactions at grocery check-outs.
“Usually what stops me is the transportation, but I usually have family that finds a way to help,” said one participant. Another said, “Having to use separate checks. Very time consuming for cashiers and the whole process.”
We are developing a long-term strategy to improve the retention rate for WIC participation. A pilot initiative is awarding incentive grants to 12 WIC clinics in four metro counties. The grants are providing diaper packs, gas or gift cards – incentives that WIC has identified as most appropriate for its clients.
Since spring 2017, when the incentives were first awarded, 640 households in four counties have received $20,077 in grants for incentives.
By the Numbers
Based on preliminary data from participating counties and WIC clients, two-thirds of respondents agree or strongly agree that diapers/gas cards are causing them to extend their participation in the WIC programs. But the WIC food program remains the strongest draw for participants so far. When these pilot grants have run for 12 months, we will know more about the role incentives play in keeping participants on WIC.
Our goal is to provide the equivalent of 4 million additional meals in WIC, which amount to $1 million in federal reimbursement dollars. A key opportunity will be in 2018-19 when WIC shopping becomes an electronic transaction with an e-WIC card. We plan to support Dept. of Health’s rollout plan with marketing and other supports. Other strategies to increase WIC participation include targeting childcare centers, early childhood education and pre-school programs.