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WIC expands to add fruits, veggies

Every kid knows that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Starting this month, apples, as well as other nutritious fruits and vegetables, are among the new choices available to those who use the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) federal nutrition program.

In October, the federal government made revisions to the food voucher program for needy families, updating the program in response to changes in U.S. dietary guidelines and the demand for nutritious foods to battle childhood obesity. These program changes were the first in nearly 30 years.

“We’ve added fruits and vegetables,” said Teresa Marshall, a registered nurse and the county’s WIC program coordinator. “We’ve added whole-wheat bread and brown rice, and have also added baby food for infants ages 6 months and above.”

Previously, the program was limited to milk, cheese, eggs, juice, cereals, dried beans and peanut butter. In addition, the program now requires that only 1-percent or fat-free milk is allowed for women and children ages 2 and older; younger children stay on whole milk or formula.

Participants in the program receive a voucher good for only specific items from a pre-selected list. Those items are chosen based on nutritional value and cost.

“You can only get WIC-approved food with these vouchers,” Marshall said. “The grocery stores know which foods are approved, and so do the participants. You can’t go get a loaf of white bread, for example, you can only get whole-grain wheat bread.”

Marshall said that in the past, participants qualified for the program based on income level and other criteria. In recent years, the government has done away with the other criteria, and participants now qualify almost exclusively based on income. Those eligible include women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or recently pregnant, and infants and children up to 5 years of age.

According to the state’s WIC program Web site, the income limits are as follows, and are based on wages before tax is withheld: $20,035 a year for a family of one, $26,955 for a family of two, $33,874 for a family of three, $40,793 for a family of four and $47,712 for a family of five.

For more information about the WIC program, contact the county health department at 334-222-1175, or visit online at www.adph.gov/wic.