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Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

If you are pregnant, recently had a baby, are breastfeeding, or have a child younger than five years of age, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could help you. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a short-term intervention program designed to influence lifetime nutrition and health behavior in high-risk populations. WIC is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

WIC provides:
  • Nutrition education and services
  • Breastfeeding promotion and education
  • A monthly food prescription of nutritious foods
  • Access to maternal, prenatal, and pediatric health-care services

WIC saves lives and improves the health of nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children. The results of studies conducted by FNS and other non-government entities prove that WIC is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective nutrition intervention programs. Since its beginning in 1974, the WIC Program has earned the reputation of being one of the most successful Federally-funded nutrition programs in the United States. Collective findings of studies, reviews, and reports demonstrate that the WIC Program is cost effective in protecting or improving the health/nutritional status of low-income women, infants, and children.

The following highlights some of the findings.

Improved Birth Outcomes and Savings in Health Care Costs
Research has shown that the WIC Program has been playing an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs. A series of reports published by USDA based on linked 1988 WIC and Medicaid data on over 100,000 births found that every dollar spent on prenatal WIC participation for low-income Medicaid women in five states resulted in:

  • longer pregnancies
  • fewer premature births
  • lower incidence of moderately low and very low birth weight infants
  • fewer infant deaths
  • a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care
  • savings in health care costs from $1.77 to $3.13 within the first 60 days after birth

Improved Diet and Diet-Related Outcomes
Studies have found WIC to have a positive effect on children's diet and diet-related outcomes such as:

  • higher mean intakes of iron, vitamin C, thiamin, niacin and vitamin B6, without an increase in food energy intake, indicating an increase in the nutrient density of the diet
  • positive effects on the intakes of ten nutrients without an adverse effect on fat or cholesterol
  • more effective than other cash income or food stamps at improving preschoolers' intake of key nutrients
  • decline in the rate of iron deficiency anemia from 7.8 percent in 1975 to 2.9 percent in 1985 which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed to both a general improvement in iron nutrition and participation in WIC and other public nutrition programs

Improved Infant Feeding Practices
WIC promotes breastfeeding as the optimal method of infant feeding. Studies show:

  • WIC breastfeeding policy and program activites were strengthened in the early 1990's
  • Between 1996 and 2001, the percentage of WIC mothers breastfeeding in the hospital increased by almost 25 percent, from 46.6 to 58.2 percent
  • The percentage of WIC infants breastfeeding at six months of age increased by 61.2 percent, from 12.9 to 20.8 percent
  • For those infants who are fed infant formula, 90 percent received iron-fortified formula, which is recommended for nearly all non-breastfed infants for the first year of life

Immunization Rates and Regular Source of Medical Care
A regular schedule of immunizations is recommended for children from birth to two years of age, which coincides with the period in which many low-income children participate in WIC. Studies have found significantly improved rates of childhood immunization and of having a regular source of medical care associated with WIC participation.

Improved Cognitive Development
Cognitive development influences school achievement and behavior. Participation in the WIC Program has been shown to:

  • improve vocabulary scores for children of mothers who participated in WIC during pregnancy
  • significantly improve memory for numbers for children enrolled in WIC after the first year of life

Improved Preconception Nutritional Status
Preconception nutritional status is an important determinant of birth outcome. A previous pregnancy can cause nutritional depletion of the postpartum woman, particularly those with high parity and short interpregnancy intervals. One study found:

  • women enrolled in WIC both during pregnancy and postpartum periods delivered infants with higher mean birth weights in a subsequent pregnancy than women who received WIC prenatally only
  • the women who received postpartum benefits had higher hemoglobin levels and lower risk of maternal obesity at the onset of the subsequent pregnancy