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Study: Children Benefit From Produce Becoming Available Through WIC Food Program

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New York State's pioneering move in 2009 to issue food vouchers for fruits and vegetables to low-income families in the WIC program has had beneficial effects for young children, according to a new health study. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.

In 2009, New York became the first state in the nation to make major changes to its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food program. Fruits and vegetables were just some of the foods made available for pregnant women and qualifying mothers with children up to age five.

There were many goals in mind, including reducing the prevalence of obesity among children. Now the first wave of studies is out and it reveals youngsters throughout the state did in fact lose weight due to a consistent diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

"Fewer kids are gaining too much weight. They're staying in that normal range," says Sally Findley, a co-author of the study.

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School Of Public Health, the state Department of Health and Public Health Solutions analyzed 3.5 million WIC records in New York State from before and after the big changes in 2009. The children ranged in age from six months to four years of age.

Among one-year-olds, they found a 6-percent decline in obesity and a 3-percent drop among two- to four-year-olds. Four percent more children drank nonfat milk

"We all know how easy it is to gain weight, but to lose weight is a different story. And when a third of the children, for example, in the WIC program are overweight or obese, nearly a third at this very young age, so to see a change starting with these very young children is really quite exciting," says Mary Ann Chiasson of Public Health Solutions.

The study also finds impressive changes in behavior. Two- to four-year-olds spent fewer hours watching television and mothers who initiated breastfeeding jumped 7 percent.

Researchers hope that if children develop healthy habits during their early years, then it may last over the long term and prevent early onset of diseases like diabetes.

To learn more about the study, visit nyhealth.gov.

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