Tag: WIC

New Report: Stress Changes Babies’ Brains and Primes Them for Obesity

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States since the 1970s. Currently, almost 1 in 5 children aged 2-19 is obese, putting them at increased risk for chronic health conditions like asthma and diabetes.

The causes of childhood obesity are complex, but one often over-looked factor is stress. Poverty, food insecurity, abuse, violence, and unpredictable or unstable caregiver relationships are all stressors that can have a profound and long-lasting impact on a child’s developing brain, obesity risk, and life-long health. Babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the damaging effect of stress. Healthy Eating Research (HER) recently released a new research review on Stress in Early Life and Childhood Obesity Risk in order to develop a better understanding of the ways in which early life stress is associated with childhood obesity risk. Below are some key findings from the report:

  • If a mom experiences acute or chronic stress before or during pregnancy it can impact the parts of her developing brain that protect against obesity, increasing the risk that the child will be obese in childhood and throughout life.
  • Chronic stress and adversity in infancy and toddlerhood can change systems in the brain that regulate self-control, potentially leading to poor eating behaviors and obesity.
  • Early stress also impacts the parts of the developing brain that control executive functions like working memory, flexible thinking and self-monitoring. Studies with young children have found that weakened executive function is linked to overweight and reduced ability to control and adjust how much is eaten.

The report also highlighted some of the ways in which poverty and food insecurity may lead to obesity-promoting diet practices. For example, young children often refuse new foods like fruits and vegetables between eight and 15 times before they are willing to eat them. One study showed that low-income families can’t afford to waste foods their children reject and are therefore more likely to purchase high calorie foods that their children will accept.

Families need support in order to combat the causes of early childhood stress and obesity. The HER researchers identified a number of programs and policies that can help families maintain stable and healthy home environments. Here are a few things families need in order to raise healthy kids:

  • Access to federal food assistance programs that fight poverty and food insecurity, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
  • Access to affordable healthy food in their communities
  • Access to affordable health care and mental health care services

Investments in the health and development of young children are investments in our nation. Protecting children from stress and adverse childhood experiences is a societal responsibility that will lower the cost of healthcare and lead to a more prepared and effective workforce in the long run. It is also the only way to ensure that every child in the United States gets a fair shot at achieving their full potential.

Click here to read the full report.

5 Ways WIC Works to Improve Child Health

It is a well-documented reality that children in low-income or food insecure households are generally less healthy than other kids. Early childhood, in particular, is an important time when a healthy diet can make a big difference for a person’s lifelong well-being. That’s why proven-effective programs that reach low-income families with very young kids with healthy foods and nutrition education – such as the Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – are so necessary.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy organization, recently released a report that outlines just how well WIC works for mothers and children. The paper, WIC Works: Addressing the Nutrition and Health Needs of Low-Income Families for 40 Years, summarizes four decades of research that demonstrates WIC’s effectiveness.

Here are five key ways that WIC is proven to improve child health:

  1. Women who participate in WIC give birth to healthier babies who are more likely to survive infancy.
  2. WIC supports more nutritious diets and better infant feeding practices.
  3. Low-income children participating in WIC are more likely to receive preventive medical care than other low-income children.
  4. Children whose mothers participated in WIC while pregnant scored higher on tests of brain development and later had higher reading scores in school.
  5. The specific set of foods provided by WIC, or the WIC food package, has improved access to fruits, vegetables and whole grains in low-income neighborhoods – for everyone who lives there.

These are life-saving benefits that make a real difference for millions of women and children. WIC effectively improves health at critical points in a child’s development – in utero, during infancy, and during the earliest years. This sets kids on the right course for a lifetime of good health, educational achievement, and prosperity.

WIC Participation Reduces Risk of Adverse Birth Outcomes