A federally funded health nutrition program administered the past six years by Mountainlands Head Start, Inc. will be turned over to the Utah County Health Department, the County Commission has decided.

By putting the health department in charge of the Women, Infants and Children Program, service will be improved, administrative costs will be reduced and WIC will be better integrated with other county health programs, health department Director Joseph Miner told commissioners Wednesday.Previous county commissions have been reluctant to have the county take over WIC because they feared the county would get stuck with funding the program should federal funding be eliminated.

"There was a big misconception of what the WIC program involved," Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck said. "The program has proved itself. I think it's a good idea."

Miner and others involved in administering health services told commissioners in a letter last week that the program "has been so successful at improving the health of pregnant women, newborn infants and preschool children that it has received favored status among public health departments. It was been exempted from any decrease in funding because it saves the American taxpayers more than it costs them."

Miner said WIC programs throughout the state are administered by public health departments, which allows the departments to integrate WIC with immunization clinics, child health clinics, prenatal clinics and handicapped children's clinics.

Miner said Utah County's infant mortality rate was above the state's average when WIC was begun in the county in 1982. The local infant mortality rate has since dropped below the state average, he said.

"Because Utah County has by far the highest birth rate and the lowest per capita income along the Wasatch Front metropolitan area, the Utah County WIC program has grown to where it now serves about 7,000 clients per month with an annual budget of about $2.5 million," the letter says. "Only 15 percent of the budget goes toward administration costs, and the remaining $2 million plus goes toward purchasing only select nutritious foods at Utah County grocery stores."

Ted Fairchild, state WIC program director, told commissioners federal funding for the program is secure.

Pending final commission approval Monday, the health department will begin administering the program Oct. 1.