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Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program

PRIORITY POLICY

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program

Supporting healthy weight and nutrition from pregnancy through the first five years

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the nation’s largest federal nutrition programs, serving approximately 6.3 million people, including about half of all infants born in the United States. WIC helps low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 achieve and maintain a healthy weight by providing healthy foods and nutrition education; promoting breastfeeding and supporting nursing mothers; and providing healthcare and social-service referrals. WIC was funded at $6.17 billion in FY18, with $60 million designated for breastfeeding initiatives, and $18.5 million directed to the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program that provides fresh, locally grown produce to participants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the funds and state agencies execute the program.

The WIC food package is required by law to be periodically re-evaluated to ensure it aligns with the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines. In 2009, the WIC food package was updated to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat milk. Research shows that, following the changes, WIC participants are buying and eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. National obesity rates for 2- to 4-year-old children on WIC declined from 15.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 in 2016.

The Family First Coronavirus Response Act provides $500 million in additional funding for WIC to improve access to nutritious foods among pregnant women with low incomes or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, states are able to waive some of the requirements that are typically part of WIC, such as the requirement to apply in person and waive some of the minimum stocking requirements for participating providers.  

Recommendations

• Congress should increase WIC funding to extend eligibility to postpartum mothers through the first two years after the birth of a baby, and to children through the age of 6 to align with participation in school meal programs.

• Congress should fund the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program at its full authorized amount of $90 million to ensure mothers have access to critical supports.

• Congress should continue to support and fund efforts to streamline and modernize WIC services through technology, including achieving the congressional mandate for all states to achieve WIC Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) by 2020.

• USDA should maintain the scientific integrity of the WIC food package process as USDA undertakes the Congressionally mandated 10-year cycle revision.

• The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should continue to support and reimburse WIC for its role in lead screening.

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New Data

Obesity Rates Decline Among WIC Participants

Between 2010 and 2016, the obesity rate among children ages 2 to 4 who participate in WIC declined significantly in 41 states and territories, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The national rate of obesity among this group also dropped, from 15.9% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016. The decline was statistically significant among all racial and ethnic groups studied: white, black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander. 

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Spotlight

WIC Food Package

In 2009, based on the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations, USDA updated the WIC food package to include more fruits, vegetables,whole grains, and lower-fat milk, with the goal of improving children’s health and nutrition. A study conducted by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found significant decreases in purchases of calories, sodium, fat, sugar, refined grains, grain-based desserts, high-fat milk, and sugary drinks among low-income families with preschool-age children following these updates. It also found increases in fruits and vegetables purchases, concluding that the updated WIC food package may encourage participating families to make healthier choices.

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Featured Studies and Resources

Study

WIC Food Vouchers

Healthy Eating Research evaluated the impact of the 2009 WIC food package changes on corner stores, convenience stores, and bodegas in two lower-income North Philadelphia neighborhoods. The evaluation found that the changes prompted those stores to begin carrying fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and other healthy foods, which also prompted non-WIC participating stores in the area to carry healthier foods.

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Study

Updated Nutrition Recommendations

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued nutrition recommendations for the WIC food package, which include providing more fish; increasing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and reducing sodium and saturated fat. The recommendations are expected to “improve both the attractiveness of the program to participants and its success in meeting the WIC program’s goals.”

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Study

Obesity Declines Among WIC Participants Ages 2 to 4

The new data show that overall obesity rates among children participating in WIC declined from 15.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2016, with statistically significant decreases among all racial and ethnic subgroups.

 

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Fast Facts

41

41 states U.S. territories reported obesity rate declines among 2-to-4 year olds participating in WIC between 2010 and 2016.

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29.1%

Percentage of overweight and obesity among children enrolled in WIC, a decrease from 32.5 percent in 2010. 

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5.2M

Number of infants and children who received WIC benefits in 2018.

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Data to Share

According to the CDC, potential factors that may have contributed to the decline in obesity rates among 2-to-4 year olds on WIC between 2010 and 2014 include: updated nutrition standards to WIC food packages and revisions to promote breastfeeding.
Research shows that, following the 2009 revisions to the WIC food package, WIC families purchased food that contained significantly fewer calories, and less sodium, fat and added sugars.
The WIC’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program serves more than 1.7 million WIC participants; in FY2017, 16,815 farmers, 3,312 farmers’ markets and 2,367 roadside stands were authorized to accept benefits.
A study found that WIC participants who received longer postpartum benefits were less likely to have obesity in their next pregnancy.