By LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON (March 5, 2009)—Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. David Paige told senators Wednesday that a healthy America starts with healthy women, infants and children.
Paige, with other nutrition and health advocates, testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He told Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; and Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Robert Casey, D-Pa., that the Women, Infants and Children feeding program is the way to improve children's nutrition in and out of school during the economic downturn.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture's child nutrition programs are a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting impact on the nutrition and eating habits of our children," Harkin said. "A stronger, targeted investment in those programs must be a part of a comprehensive federal response to poor nutrition among our children."
Panelists included executive directors Kenneth Hecht for the California Food Policy Advocates and Lucy Nolan from End Hunger Connecticut.
Paige, an expert in community health and maternal and child nutrition, suggested that broadening the federally funded WIC program to include families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level and all Medicaid recipients would move the program toward its "promise of covering all eligible women, infants and children."
In 2007, Maryland's WIC program served more than 130,000 women, infants and children each month, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Family Health Administration.
The WIC program, according to the DHMH Web site, provides healthy supplemental foods and nutrition counseling for pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children under age 5.
"We have to be smarter about the way we run this program," said Paige, director of the WIC program at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
WIC, a division of the USDA, has proven to be "extraordinarily cost effective" and has reduced the number of low-birth-weight and premature infants for those in the program, said Paige, who designed and implemented a supplemental feeding program used, in turn, as a template for WIC's Special Supplemental Nutrition program.
"WIC represents the nation's most successful nutrition program addressing the needs of the most economically disadvantaged," Paige said.
The number of children living in poverty has increased by 15 percent, or nearly 2 million, from 2000 to 2007, he said.
"Poverty, in general, results in poor health," said Paige, who is also on the Maryland State WIC advisory panel.
"We're not clever about the way we apply (nutritional programs) in the lower-tiered populations," said Paige. "We need federal standards and guidance."
In addition to extending care to more women and children, Paige suggested:
-- States should certify children for up to one year in the program to increase opportunities from nutritional intervention.
-- Integrating WIC with other health services to better target nutrition and health education and reducing paper work and unnecessary testing.
-- Elimination of duplicative administrative and clinical services, such as and redundant testing, to make the program more efficient.
The nation needs an approach that addresses nutrition and health disparities in a language that can permeate all communities with an emphasis on prevention and education, Paige said.
The hearing Wednesday was informational, according to Harkin's spokeswoman, Kate Cyrul.
"The committee is weighing all of the legislative options that were presented at the hearing."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.