By Neyssa Deriphonse
Healthy food is one of the basic needs in life for a child to properly develop physically, mentally and emotionally.
Dr. Natasha Patterson, a public health faculty member at The College of New Jersey, participated in a project at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office in Ewing Township, which focused on mothers and breastfeeding. Part of the project was to educate mothers about the importance of breastfeeding with respect to malnutrition and food security.
WIC is a nutritional supplement program for mothers and children up to five years of age. Patterson said WIC assists parents in getting supplements for necessary nutrients for their kids.
“While they do not provide all of the food and nutrition for families, they provide a supplement…If the parents are not breastfeeding, they will provide formula. If the parents are breastfeeding, they will provide food for those parents to ensure that they have the nutrients needed to pass on to their infants,” Patterson said.
Women who become pregnant can immediately go to the WIC office to gain more insight on pregnancy. If the income guideline requirements are met, parents get the nutritional support needed for their health as well as their children.
“As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, you will meet with a nutritionist, and they will talk to you about your nutrition, give you funding in the form of checks or cards, and you go to the grocery store and there are approved items you can purchase,” Patterson said. Once the baby is born, the nutritionist also regulates the baby’s food intake.
Not having a working phone number or a fixed address can deter certain parents from taking advantage of these resources.
It is hard to get in contact with clients “if their phones get cut off or if there’s no phone number or an address for them,” Patterson said.
The application process can also pose a challenge to this community. “Most of the time the application is online. Some people use the library if they can,” she said.
And sometimes filling out applications on one’s phone is challenging. “It may not support the software program. Or if there’s an app, it may not support the app,” Patterson added.
Another challenge for Mercer County families is the increase in rent payments. Some parents can “no longer afford where they live.”
Patterson explained that the rising costs impact children’s education and their parents’ choices.
“Now, I’m choosing between my rent and groceries, I’m choosing between my rent and my health” she said.
Parents have to make tough decisions because they are choosing between necessities when their money is already limited.
Feeding America reported that 11.9% of children under 18 years of age faced food insecurity in Mercer County in 2020.
According to an article by North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), food insecurity is also a form of trauma that can cause a child to develop an anxious relationship with food.
Some of the traumatic behaviors include eating quickly, hiding food, eating secretly or alone, eating large quantities of food and eating only familiar food.
“Ways to help children and teens self-regulate, and connect with their bodies and tune in to hunger and fullness cues include: Singing, making music, or music therapy, dancing, yoga, making art or art therapy,” the article states.
Patterson urges people to continue to raise awareness about WIC because so many children are food insecure.
“Schools are also filling the gaps by providing those free breakfast and free lunch programs as well as the summer breakfast and summer lunch programs,” she said.
She explained that food gets wasted because people are not aware of those programs.
“The word is not getting out about what’s available…we want people to take advantage of it…we want the solution to be systemic,” Patterson said.
The goal is to spread the news about resources available to eliminate systems that cause food insecurity among kids.
According to Patterson, raising awareness on resources accessible to mothers in the community will greatly benefit both mothers and children by embracing those advantages for a more adequate lifestyle.