May 20, 2022 - News

Formula flexibility coming for Ohio parents on WIC

Data: Datasembly; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Ohio's low-income families could soon feel a bit of relief amid a frightening nationwide shortage of baby formula.

Driving the news: The Ohio Department of Health requested federal waivers this week to grant formula-buying flexibility for participants of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Why it matters: Half of all infant formula in the U.S. is purchased using WIC benefits, according to the White House. In Ohio, nearly 62,000 infants rely on it, per the state health department.

  • But the program is limited to certain types of formula, which increases demand while limiting parents' options amid the ongoing formula shortage.

Of note: Ohio was one of the last states to apply for the waivers.

Catch up quick: A cascade of issues related to production and distribution are to blame for the shortage, which started late last year and has gotten precipitously worse in recent weeks.

  • That includes the shutdown of Abbott's baby formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan, following an FDA recall. It is set to reopen in two weeks, Axios' Herb Scribner reports.
  • In the meantime, an Abbott plant in Columbus has shifted to manufacturing Similac formula to help meet demands, the company announced Monday.

Zoom in: The situation in Ohio is slightly better than the rest of the country, though not by much, with 42% of formulas currently out of stock, according to retail software company Datasembly.

  • 78% of Ohioans drink some formula in their first six months of life, slightly higher than the national average, per the CDC.

Be smart: While homemade recipes are circulating online, health experts advise against making your own formula at home due to potential health risks. Diluting with water or cow milk is also not recommended.

  • Some soy-based formulas are easier to find as a temporary substitute, according to Nationwide Children's Hospital.
  • Parents can also call stores and formula providers directly to ask for help.
  • Talk to a health care provider if your baby is on a special formula to discuss alternatives.

What's next: Relief is expected soon due to increased formula production and imports, Axios' Mark Robinson reports.

  • "Within days it will get better, but it will be a few weeks until we’re back to normal," FDA commissioner Robert Califf told a House subcommittee yesterday.

Go deeper: Baby formula shortage puts spotlight on how America feeds its young


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