Do not pity the lowly white potato, for it has friends in high places. Late last year, Congress decided to add white potatoes to the list of foods that can be purchased with government-subsidized vouchers used by participants in WIC — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The addition was part of the behemoth 1,600-page “cromnibus,” and it was a shocking example of Congress defying science and writing its own menu. White potatoes already figure heavily in the diets of low-income families, because potatoes are relatively inexpensive and usually come already prepared — albeit in the most unhealthy way imaginable. Since it was created more than 40 years ago, the WIC program has been one of this country’s most successful anti-poverty, pro-health programs. WIC gives federal grants to states for food, nutrition education and health care referrals for low-income mothers and children younger than age 5.
Low-income mothers in New Haven who can’t afford enough diapers to keep their babies clean and dry are more likely to report trouble coping with stress, depression or trauma, according to a study published today in the journal Pediatrics. The survey of 877 New Haven mothers found that nearly 30 percent said they didn’t have enough diapers to change their children as often as they would like, and the problem was more common among Hispanic women and caregivers over age 45, usually grandmothers. Women who reported diaper need were nearly twice as likely to experience mental health issues, although the nature of the link is unclear. The authors hypothesize that the link could be direct, or it could be part of more complex interaction between mental health and poverty. “It could be that moms who have more mental health difficulties have trouble obtaining diapers,” said the lead author, Megan Smith, an assistant professor of psychiatry, child study and public health at Yale University.