Applying Racial Equity to U.S. Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs - Flipbook - Page 31
Courtesy of CinnaMoms
2. WIC provides specialized support. WIC services are designed to
meet each participant’s unique nutritional needs, including both
micronutrients and macronutrients, based on her or his screening.
For example, applicants with moderate iron deficiencies may be
asked to return in a month to check their progress. Those with
dangerously low iron levels will be referred to a healthcare provider.
These approaches are designed to address nutritional conditions,
many of which disproportionately hurt women and children of color.
3. All women who are eligible based on income and nutritional
risk may participate. WIC does not deny benefits to children whose
mother is incarcerated, for example, nor to women returning from
jail or prison and their children, who are at very high risk of poverty
and food insecurity.121 122 123
4. WIC allows tribal governments to administer the program in
culturally competent (see glossary) and sensitive ways. The
majority of Indigenous WIC participants live in communities
governed by tribal government, whether on or off a reservation.124
Respecting tribal self-determination and culture is important in
providing appropriate services and boosting nutrition among
CinnaMoms is a program based in
Los Angeles that connects African
American women to culturally sensitive,
targeted breastfeeding support both
before and after their babies are born.
The founders are two African American
lactation educators who previously
worked at WIC. WIC can advance
racial equity by supporting such
initiatives and empowering women of
color to use their leadership skills and
expertise to benefit their communities.
5. WIC works to improve the options available in its approved food
packages. In 2009, USDA revised WIC food packages125 according
to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy
of Pediatrics’ infant feeding practices guidelines. In addition to an
increased focus on healthier foods, the changes included expanding
the list of foods within each category to be more suitable for people
from different racial and cultural backgrounds with different
nutritional needs. Two examples are allowing soymilk and tofu in addition to dairy milk, and corn tortillas in addition to
whole wheat bread. The 2009 changes have resulted in healthier diets among participants.126 127
In 2017, after a three-year review, experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM),
recommended additional changes to USDA.128 If implemented, these recommendations could also improve the nutritional
status of WIC participants.
6. WIC offers peer counseling breastfeeding support. Breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for babies.
Breastfeeding lowers their risk of health conditions such as infections and lower respiratory tract illnesses—as well as their
risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Indigenous and African American infants are at highest risk of both SIDS129
and mortality from all causes.130 Breastfeeding also has benefits for mothers—for example, it reduces their risk of breast131
and ovarian cancer,132 133 which affect women of color disproportionately. It reduces overall maternal and infant mortality.134
For all these reasons, WIC works to increase breastfeeding rates for all clients and to reduce the disparities between white
mothers’ breastfeeding rates and those of African American and Indigenous mothers. Whenever possible, mothers who are
unfamiliar with breastfeeding are paired with peer counselors who share their language, race/ethnicity, and other aspects
of identity. This helps ensure that counselors are able to work in ways that are culturally and linguistically competent
(see glossary)—for example, supporting mothers in overcoming barriers to breastfeeding that are exacerbated by racism.
Some local WIC agencies have supported efforts to create peer counseling programs by and for women of color, such as
CinnaMoms in Los Angeles (see spotlight box above).135 These services can also provide part time, and sometimes full time,
employment options for mothers with experience breastfeeding who are or have been WIC participants.
WIC participants’ breastfeeding initiation and duration rates (see glossary) have continued to increase over the past 20
years,136 although there is limited disaggregated data.137
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