Early Childhood Education

Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

 

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal grant program first established by Congress in 1972. Congress created WIC during the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health by amending the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” initiative. WIC is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), a subdivision of the USDA. Grants are awarded to state health agencies or comparable departments in all 50 states, as well as territories and protectorates. The 88 WIC State agencies administer the program through 2,200 local agencies and 9,000 locations. Congress reauthorized it in 2004.

The primary purpose of WIC is to provide nutritious foods and nutritional counseling, plus health and social services referrals to eligible participants, including pregnant, postpartum, and breast-feeding women, plus infants and preschool children up to age five who are at nutrition risk. Participants must meet income guidelines (at or below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines) to be eligible for nutritious food supplements (Food and Nutrition Services, http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/).

WIC began as a pilot program in 1972, as a result of the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, and became permanently established in 1974. WIC has improved birth outcomes as well as the health of infants and small children. Mothers’ participation in WIC during pregnancy and after birth reduces risk of infant death, lowers the prevalence of small-for-gestational-age deliveries, and decreases low-birth-weight births by up to 25 percent. Participation has grown steadily since the inception of the program. For fiscal year 2005, the average monthly participation was just over eight million people, of which children and infants made up over six million of the participants. WIC is the largest and most successful food supplement program in the United States.

In 2002, almost 47 percent of all infants born in the United States were eligible to receive one or more of the benefits. According to one multisite study in five states and Washington, DC, over a two-year period, about 91 percent of eligible women and children received benefits (Black et al., 2004). Numerous studies have found positive outcomes for WIC participants related to birth, diet, infant feeding practices, immunization rates, savings on health care costs, cognitive development, birth weights, and improved growth rates for children.

The success of the program and the increasing awareness of the value of early intervention, as well as other challenges that this population faces have led to the expansion of services. Currently, client screening includes dental; lead poisoning; verbal, sexual or physical abuse; immunizations; drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; voter registration; and family reading practices. This merger of health, education, and social services places the WIC program in a unique and important position in the field of early childhood, promoting the health and nutrition of young children and their mothers.

Further Readings: Ahluwalia, I. B., V. K. Hogan, L. Grummer-Strawn, W. R. Colville, and A. Peterson (1991). The effect of WIC participation on small-for-gestational-age births: Michigan. American Journal of Public Health 88(9), 1374-1377. Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Available online at http://www.gop.gov/Committeecentral/bills/s2507.asp. Black, M. M., D. B. Cutts, D. A. Frank, J. Geppert, A. Skalicky, S. Levenson, et al. (2004). Special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children participation and infants’ growth and health: A multisite surveillance study. Pediatrics 114(1), 169-177. Food and Nutrition Services (n.d.). About WIC: How WIC helps. Available online at http://www.fns.usda. gov/wic/aboutwic/howwichelps.htm. Internet FAQ Archives: Online education. Available online at http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/Smi-Z/WIC-Program.html. Lazariu-Bauer, V., M. L. Woelfel, H. Stratton, and R. A. Pruzek (2004). Comparative analysis of effects of early versus late prenatal WIC participation on birth weight: NYS, 1995. Maternal and Child Health Journal 8(2), 77-87; Moss, N. E., and K. Carver (1998). The effect of WIC and Medicaid on infant mortality in the United States. American Journal of Public Health 88(9), 1354-1361; Schramm, W. F. (1985). WIC prenatal participation and its relationship to newborn Medicaid costs in Missouri: A cost/benefit analysis. American Journal of Public Health 75(8), 851-858; The Research Findings on WIC. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, DC, March 1994. U.S. Congress (1966). Child Nutrition Act of 1966, Section 17, as amended through PL 92-433, September 26, 1972 and through PL108-323, October 6, 2004. U.S. Congressional Record, Washington, DC. Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). (n.d.). See Prevention Institute, Oakland, CA. Available online atwww.preventioninstitute.org.

John P. Manning