Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)

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WOMEN, INFANTS, AND CHILDREN PROGRAM (WIC)

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides nutritious food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referral to health care and social services for low-income, nutritionally at risk, pregnant, and postpartum women, and for infants and children under the age of five.

WIC was funded at $4 billion for 2001, serving about 7.2 million women and young children. WIC operates nationwide through 1,800 local health departments, community health centers, hospitals, and health or social-service agencies. Some thirty inter-tribal organizations operate WIC programs, and the program also operates in Puerto Rico and in several U.S. territories. The United States Department of Agriculture operates WIC at the federal level, and state health departments administer the program in conjunction with local agencies.

WIC services include foods containing nutrients that are often lacking in the diets of low-income pregnant women and young children; nutrition assessment and nutrition education; and referral to health insurance and social programs like food stamps. WIC promotes breastfeeding through classes and individual counseling done by peer counselors and lactation consultants. In many communities, WIC operates closely with health programs for women and children including immunization programs. Public health issues such as smoking and obesity are incorporated into the WIC educational efforts of many agencies.

Numerous evaluations have found that WIC improves health status and reduces medical costs. Studies have found that women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; WIC lowers the incidence of late fetal deaths by up to one-third; WIC contributes to decreases in anemia; every dollar invested in WIC for pregnant women produces $1.92 to $4.21 in Medicaid savings; and that WIC increases prenatal and well-child care use.

Stefan Harvey

(see also: Child Health Services; Maternal and Child Health; Nutrition; Poverty; Women's Health )