How WIC Helps
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 nations 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 (pertinent
references are provided).
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.7,20 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 5 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; and
- savings in health care costs from $1.77 to $3.13 within the
first 60 days after birth.3,4,5
Improved Diet and Diet-Related
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;19
- positive effects on the intakes of ten nutrients without an adverse
effect on fat or cholesterol;14
- more effective than other cash income or SNAP benefits at improving
preschoolers' intake of key nutrients;14 and
- 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.20
Improved Infant Feeding
WIC promotes breastfeeding as the optimal method of infant feeding. Studies show:
- WIC participants who reported having received advice to breastfeed
their babies from the WIC clinic were more likely to breastfeed than other WIC
participants or eligible nonparticipants;18
- WIC breastfeeding policy and program activities 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
- The percentage of WIC infants breastfeeding at six months of age
increased by 61.2 percent, from 12.9 to 20.8 percent; and,
- 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.1
Immunization Rates and Regular
Source of Medical Care
A regular schedule of immunizations is recommended for children from birth to 2 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
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 prenatally; and
- significantly improve memory for numbers for children enrolled in WIC
after the first year of life.19
Improved Preconceptional Nutritional
Preconceptional 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; and,
- the women who received postpartum benefits had higher hemoglobin
levels and lower risk of maternal obesity at the onset of the subsequent pregnancy.2
Other Improved Outcomes
WIC participation has also been shown to:
- increase the likelihood of children having a regular provider of
medical care;19 and,
- improve growth rates.6,8
- WIC reduces fetal deaths and infant mortality.
- WIC reduces low birthweight rates and increases the duration of
- WIC improves the growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and
- WIC decreases the incidence of iron deficiency anemia in children.
- WIC improves the dietary intake of pregnant and postpartum women and
improves weight gain in pregnant women.
- Pregnant women participating in WIC receive prenatal care earlier.
- Children enrolled in WIC are more likely to have a regular source of
medical care and have more up to date immunizations.
- WIC helps get children ready to start school: children who receive
WIC benefits demonstrate improved intellectual development.
- WIC significantly improves childrens diets.
1. Baydar, Nazli, Margaret McCam, Rick Williams and Eric Vesper. The
WIC Infant Feeding Practices Study. Alexandria, Virginia: Department of Agriculture,
2. Caan, B., et. al., "Benefits associated with WIC Supplemental Feeding During the
Interpregnancy Interval," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1987.
3. Devaney, Barbara, Linda T. Bilheimer, and Jennifer Schore. The Savings in Medicaid
Costs for Newborns and Their Mothers from Prenatal Participation in the WIC Program.
Alexandria, Virginia: U.S. Department of Agriculture, October 1980.
4. Devaney, Barbara. Very Low Birthweight Among Medicaid Newborns in Five States: The
Effects of Prenatal WIC Participation. Alexandria, Virginia: U.S. Department of
Agriculture, September 1992.
5. Devaney, Barbara-, and Allen Schirm. Infant Mortality Among Medicaid Newborns in
Five States: The Effects of Prenatal WIC Participation. Alexandria, Virginia: U.S.
Department of Agriculture, May 1993.
6. Edozien, J., Switzer, B., and Bryan, R.: "Medical Evaluation of the Special
Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 32:677-692,
7. Gordon, Anne; and Lyle Nelson. Characteristics and Outcomes of WIC Participants and
Nonparticipants: Analysis of the 1988 National Maternal and Infant Health Survey. Alexandria,
Virginia: U.S. Department of Agriculture, March 1995.
8. Heimendinger, J., Larid, N., Austin, J., Timmer, P., and Gershoff, S.: "The
Effects of the WIC Program on the Growth of Infants," Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 40:1250-1257,
9. Kennedy, E.T., Gershoff, S., Reed, R., and Austin, J.E.: "Evaluation of the Effect
of WIC Supplemental Feeding on Birth Weight," JADA, 80:220-227, March 1982.
10. Kennedy, E.T. and Gershoff, S.: "Effect of WIC Supplemental Feeding on Hemoglobin
and Hematocrit of Prenatal Patients," JADA, 80:227-230, March 1982.
11. Kennedy, E. T. and Kotelchuck, M.: "The Effect of WIC Supplemental Feeding on
Birth Weight: A Case-Control Analysis," Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 40:579-585,
12. Kotelchuck, M., Schwartz, J., Anderka, M, and Finison, K.: "WIC Participation and
Pregnancy Outcomes: Massachusetts Statewide Evaluation Project," Am. J. Public
Health 74:1086-1092, October 1984.
13. Metcoff, J., Costiloe, P., Crosby, W., Dutta, S., Sanstead, H.,
Milne, D., BodwelL C.,
and Majors, S.: "Effect of Food Supplementation (WIC) During Pregnancy on Birth
Weight," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 41:933-947, May 1985.
14. Rose, D., Habicht, J-P., and Devaney, B.: "Household Participation in the Food
Stamp and WIC Programs Increases the Nutrient Intakes of Preschool Children," J.
of Nutr., 128:548-555, March 1998.
15. Ryan, A. S.: "Breastfeeding continues to increase into the New
Millenium," Pediatrics 110(6): 1103-1109, December 2002.
16. Schramm, W.: "Prenatal Participation and Its Relationship to Newborn Medicaid
Costs in Missouri: A Cost/Benefit Analysis," Am. J. Public Health 75:851-857,
17. Schramm, W.: "Prenatal Participation in WIC Related to Medicaid Costs for
Missouri Newborns: 1982 Update," Public Health Reports 101:607-615,
18. Schwartz, J. Brad, David K. Guilkey, John S. Akin, and Barry M.
Popkin. The WIC
Breastfeeding Report: The Relationship of WIC Program Participation to the Initiation and
Duration of Breastfeeding. Alexandria, Virginia: U.S. Department of Agriculture,
19. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. The National WIC
Evaluation: An Evaluation of the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and
Children. Vol. 1: Summary. Alexandria, Virginia: U.S. Department Agriculture, 1987.
20. U.S. General Accounting Office, "Early Intervention: Federal Investments Like WIC
Can Produce Savings," Document HRD 92-18, Washington, D.C., April 1992.
21. YIP, R., Binkin, N.J., Fleshood, L., Trowbridge, F.L.: "Declining Prevalence of
Anemia Among Low-Income Children in the United States," JAMA, 258:1619-1647,
September 25, 1987.
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