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WIC Program's Crucial Role in Safe Infant Feeding Practices During 2022 U.S. Formula Shortage

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Zara Nwosu
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WIC Program's Crucial Role in Safe Infant Feeding Practices During 2022 U.S. Formula Shortage

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A recent study by Washington State University has shed light on the vital role the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program plays in ensuring safe infant feeding practices, particularly during times of crisis. This research emerged in the wake of the 2022 U.S. infant formula shortage, and the findings underscore the significance of WIC as a safety net for infants and children in low-income families.

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WIC's Impact on Infant Feeding Practices During the Formula Shortage

According to the study, families participating in the WIC program were less likely to resort to potentially unsafe infant feeding practices during the formula shortage compared to income-eligible families not participating in the program. Both WIC participants and non-participants were impacted by the shortage at similar rates. However, WIC participants were more likely to adapt to the shortage by changing the brand or type of formula or sourcing it from a different location. They were also less likely to resort to less healthy feeding practices such as using dairy milk or milk alternatives, diluting formula, or opting for homemade formula.

Role of WIC in Alleviating Poverty and Health Disparities

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The WIC program aims to expand partnerships with community organizations and use community-level data to develop and test WIC outreach efforts. The program has reported a 1.2 percent increase to 6.2 million participants in February 2022 from February 2020. However, the pandemic has highlighted racial and economic disparities, leaving many families, especially those with limited income, feeling concerned about how they'll feed their babies. WIC is an important resource during COVID-19, helping to alleviate poverty and improving the availability of healthy foods in low-income communities through participating stores.

Mixed Milk Feeding (MMF) and Its Drivers

The practice of mixed milk feeding (MMF) is common among mothers, and a systematic review has identified 13 different unique MMF drivers related to perceived choice, necessity, or pressure. The most commonly reported reasons for MMF were the perception of necessity, concerns about the infant's hunger, perceived breast milk insufficiency, or breastfeeding difficulties. The study further emphasizes the need for a unified definition of MMF to enable more standardized research.

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The Current State of the Infant Formula Market

The infant formula market is currently undergoing scrutiny under the UK competition authority. Developments are underway to produce cell-based breast milk as a potential replacement for suboptimal bovine infant formula. The market also sees empowering small batch infant formula makers and the approval of the use of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in infant formula in China by two multinationals and one local giant.

Specialty Formula for Pediatric Patients

Nestlé Health Science's Alfamino® is a specialty formula designed to aid pediatric patients' growth and well-being. It is a hypoallergenic amino acid-based formula for infants and children with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), multiple food allergies, eosinophilic GI disorders, and malabsorptive conditions. The role of this specialty formula in resolving cow's milk protein allergy is crucial and its applications for pediatric patients are important.

In conclusion, the WIC program's role during the 2022 U.S. infant formula shortage highlights the program's importance in safeguarding the health and well-being of low-income families. The temporary waiver of restrictions on WIC benefits by the federal government during the shortage is believed to have eased the burden on participating families, further affirming WIC's cost-effectiveness.

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