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WIC program gets its first overhaul -- to include fresh produce

September 30, 2009 |  2:19 pm

Tomatoes


There is rejoicing today at agencies that work with recipients of food vouchers through the Women, Infants and Children program.

"We're in seventh heaven," said Laurie True, executive director of the Cal WIC Assn., based in Sacramento.

Starting Thursday, WIC recipients -- more than 8 million of them -- will be able to use vouchers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, under a program revision that has been years in the making.

"We're extremely excited," said Pina Hernandez, outreach manager for the Public Health Foundation Enterprises WIC Program, which provides WIC services to 316,000 people in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"It's a much-needed change," said Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit behind a national public health initiative to get people to eat more fruit and vegetables.

"That's the one food group consumers are eating so little of," she said.

When WIC was devised more than 30 years ago, hunger and vitamin deficencies were problems, and the WIC foods reflected that -- eggs, cheese, protein, milk, juice. Today, of course, obesity is the top food-related health problem.

WIC also provides education to recipients, and Pivonka said the emphasis on the reasons people need fruit and vegetables might help families develop good eating habits. And for families who might have felt that fresh produce was too expensive, the targeted funds will "give them permission to eat fruits and vegetables," she said.

The provision is $6 a month for children, $8 for pregnant women and mothers of children 5 and under, or $10 for mothers who are exclusively breast-feeding.

"Is it sufficient? No, but it's just a supplemental program," Pivonka said.

-- Mary MacVean

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