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Earlier entry in WIC leads moms to smarter milk choices


“In the US, milk is virtually the national emblem,” quipped a 2003 Guardian article. “Apple pie, in comparison, is an also-ran.”

That popularity is thanks to an aggressive advertising campaign and a long-standing, widespread assumption that cow’s milk is good for human health. Unfortunately, it’s not - at least where infants are concerned. Babies given cow’s milk miss out on vitamin E, iron and essential fatty acids, while taking in too much protein, sodium and potassium, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises mothers to avoid giving the milk to children under one years of age.

The AAP's advice on cow's milk is often ignored, especially by low-income women. But it might be less so with earlier enrollment in the federal nutrition-assistance program WIC, according to a new Penn State study. (WIC provides women, infants and children supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition information.)

From a release:

The study showed that women who enrolled in theprogram during their first or second trimester of pregnancy -- from week one to week twenty-seven -- were far less likely to introduce cow's milk too soon than women who enrolled in WIC during their third trimester or who did not enroll at all.

"What this study tells us is that if we intervene by enrolling low-income women in WIC earlier on in their pregnancies, it will be healthier for the babies," said Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor of human development and family studies, Penn State.

The researchers hypothesize the dietary information WIC provides to women might be responsible for the improvement. But they point out that factors other than education shape lifestyle choices: Low-income women are less able to afford infant formula and in general have less access to breast-pumping facilities at work. (And lack of paid leave from work is a deterrent to breastfeeding that affects most mothers, as my colleague Michelle Brandt reported in a recent post.)

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

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