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Infant formula in food program to change starting next month

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Families receiving infant formula from the Pennsylvania Women, Infants and Children supplemental food and nutrition program will notice a switch in brands next month.

Under a new five-year contract, WIC will offer Similac Advance and its Isomil brand made in Illinois instead of Nestle's Gerber Good Start, manufactured in Michigan. The switchover will begin Oct. 1 and is scheduled for completion Nov. 1. Special infant formula authorized by WIC will still be provided with prescriptions from physicians, certified nurse practitioners or physician assistants.

“The switch had nothing to do with nutritional content,” said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department. “Every five years, the state re-evaluates its contracts, and sometimes changes are made.”

Pennsylvania WIC provided Similac and Isomil from 2003 to 2008, when it switched to Gerber. Cole said he wasn't sure why the state chose to switch back, and officials from the state Department of Health could not be reached for comment.

Similac Advance costs a few cents less than Good Start — according to information available online at Amazon and some other websites — which likely led the state to switch for cost savings. Otherwise, the two are a close match nutritionally.

Similac has marginally less sodium, carbohydrates and protein per gram. Isomil, a soy-based alternative, falls somewhere in the middle nutritionally with more fat, sodium and protein and fewer carbs, according to nutritional information provided by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We're always happy to address any concerns or issues,” Cole said, “but we don't anticipate any problems.”

WIC is a federally funded program for income- and medically-eligible pregnant women, postpartum mothers, breastfeeding mothers and children younger than 5 for families with an annual gross income starting at $21,257.

Historically, small changes in WIC programs have yielded “small but significant” results, according to a 2008-11 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found obesity rates of low-income preschoolers fell in 19 of 43 U.S. states and territories after the WIC program added vouchers for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, including Pennsylvania-grown produce purchased at participating farmers markets.

WIC provides nutrition counseling, breastfeeding support and food vouchers redeemable at participating grocery stores for infant formula and cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, juice, peanut butter, whole grains, tofu, jarred baby foods, beans, canned fish, fruits and vegetables.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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