MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - The Minnesota Department of Health finds that nearly one-third of children ages two to five years in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program are at an unhealthy weight, either overweight or obese.
The WIC Program assists low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children up to five years-old with nutritional assistance, funds to purchase healthy foods and more.
They say they measure overweight status and obesity by taking a child’s weight, height, age and sex into account.
According to Minnesota WIC Director Kate Franken, the population that WIC serves is more at-risk of being at an unhealthy weight.
Height and weight is routinely collected, at least once a year, with WIC participants, according to the department.
“You know, at the individual level, when WIC participants have height and weight measured, that information goes into the sort of individualized nutrition education and counseling that participants receive," she said.
As of 2017, there are nearly 59,850 Minnesota children participating in WIC, and the department determined that 7,762 are obese.
According to the department, between 14 to 18 percent of children in WIC in southern Minnesota counties like Brown, Martin, Faribault and Le Sueur are obese.
In Brown County, 49 out of 278 WIC children are obese.
In Le Sueur County, 43 out of 266 are obese.
In Martin County, that number is 44 out of 248.
And in Faribault County, that number is 25 out of 150.
This interactive map from the department shows the numbers throughout the state.
Since the program provides funds that can be exchanged for different foods, it also provides a shopping guide that details what can be bought and what can’t.
For example, participants in the program would be able to purchase a box of Cheerios, but they would not be able to purchase a box of Lucky Charms.
For other restrictions, participants can buy plain, white chicken eggs, but they can't buy brown eggs.
They can buy any variety of whole, cut, bagged or packaged fruits, but salad mixtures with dressing are not allowed.
Franken said one function of the data is to help organizations like schools and healthcare providers at the county level.
It can also help in informing parents.
“And so, we know that parents that are more aware of their child’s weight status and have tools and resources can help their kids develop healthier eating habits and be more physically active," she said.