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Not Your Mother’s WIC

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A government nutrition program for low-income women, infants, and children under age 5 is embracing technology to make it easier for participants to use their benefits and eat healthier.

The Colorado Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has launched WICShopper, a free smart phone app that allows WIC families to scan product bar codes to determine whether the food is WIC-eligible, check food benefit account balances and download recipes. Colorado WIC also released a new list of allowable foods aimed at improving nutrition and choice. These innovations cap a year of change that saw the program replace paper checks with a debit-style eWIC card, provide increased online and phone options to reduce required in-person clinic visits, and implement text messaging to communicate with WIC families.  

“Because most of our WIC families are tech savvy millennials, we are using technology to make it easier for them to get the nutrition support they need,” said Erin Ulric, Nutrition Services branch director.

New technology employed during the past year, Ulric said, has led to improved access to the program, better retention of program participants, fewer missed appointments, better data collection and, most important, a better shopping experience for WIC families and participating grocers.

WIC serves 85,000 low-income individuals per month in Colorado – about half the number of Colorado families who are eligible for the program. Ulric hopes WIC’s modernization efforts will encourage more young families to check their eligibility and take advantage of the program’s nutrition assistance and education benefits.

Here are some of the innovations:

·        Texting: WIC families receive appointment reminders, food benefit updates, nutrition tips and other program information via text.

·        eWIC: Instead of picking up a bundle of paper checks at a WIC clinic and taking them to the store for processing, WIC families get a debit-style eWIC card that can be remotely loaded with their food benefits and then swiped at the grocery store to pay for food, track monthly purchases and check food benefit account balances.

·        WICShopper: WIC participants can download this free mobile app to scan product bar codes to determine if a food is WIC-eligible; check their food balances; and find helpful shopping information, “Life Hacks” and recipes.

·        Online education: WIC families can access nutrition lessons online, follow up on clinic visits and check food benefit account balances. Educators can issue food benefits to the family’s eWIC card without the family having to come to a clinic.

·        Nutritious foods: WIC’s new list of allowable foods brings choice and flexibility to the program’s nutrition requirements by adding a larger variety of dairy products such as string cheese and lactose-free milk, more whole grain options such as tortillas and pasta, organic baby food and new sizes in popular products.

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