USDA’s WIC Program Has Provided Nutrition Support for New Mothers, Young Children for Over 40 Years
Release No.
FNS Office of the Chief Communications Officer (703) 305-2281

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2014 – USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, more commonly known as the WIC Program. WIC was established in 1974 to reduce infant mortality and improve the health of our nation’s children.  Today, the WIC program is considered one of the most successful, cost-effective and important nutrition intervention programs in the country. Each month WIC safeguards the health of approximately 8.25 million low-income women, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk by providing supplemental food benefits, nutrition education, healthcare referrals, and breastfeeding promotion and support.

“As we commemorate 40 years of accomplishments, WIC’s impact can be seen not only through improved child health, but in healthcare cost savings and economic support for local merchants through WIC participant purchases,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “In fact, WIC participation actually saves money for taxpayers. Studies on WIC participation among low-income Medicaid recipients show that every dollar spent on prenatal WIC participation saves $1.77 to $3.13 within the first 60 days after birth.” 

Since the first WIC site opened in Pineville, Ky., in 1974, the program has improved the health and lives of millions of children, providing nutritious supplemental foods and instilling healthy behaviors that children can carry with them for a lifetime. Significant milestones throughout the years include:

  • Over the last four decades, WIC participation has contributed to lower infant mortality rates and improved pregnancy outcomes. A 2009 study concluded that WIC participation was associated with a substantial reduction in poor birth outcomes such as birth weights below 2,500 grams (about 5 pounds, 8 ounces). The study reported that these positive effects of WIC are more pronounced among more disadvantaged WIC participants and are greater if the mother begins participating in WIC early in her pregnancy.

  • WIC has a significant, positive impact on the overall health of children. Studies have found that infants of low-income women who did not receive WIC assistance were more likely to be underweight, and also perceived as having fair or poor health.

  • WIC participation is related to greater use of health care services of all types, including dental care, compared to low-income children not participating in WIC. Also, a Chicago study found that by age 25 months, children who were participating in WIC were more likely to be immunized than children in the same age group who no longer participated in WIC.

  • WIC is helping to address childhood obesity in America. According to the 2012 WIC Participant Characteristics report published by USDA, from 2008 to 2012, the percentage of 1-year-old WIC children considered overweight fell from 16.8 to 15.3; similarly over the same time period for two to four year old children, the rate fell from 14.7 to 14.0.

  • The WIC food package was recently updated to provide healthier options. In 1974, the original food package included iron-fortified formula and cereal, fruit juice, cheese, eggs, and milk. Today, the food package is more consistent with current science-based dietary guidance, offering a wider array of healthy choices, including fruits and vegetables, yogurt, and additional whole grain and fish options.

  • WIC has begun the transition to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) program. To further improve program operations and integrity, and to enhance the participant experience, WIC is moving to electronic benefits transfer (EBT). Using EBT instead of paper vouchers reduces stigma and helps WIC participants more effectively redeem their benefits. WIC is working diligently to implement EBT nationwide by October 2020. To date, 13 WIC state agencies have successfully transitioned to EBT statewide.

The WIC program currently operates in all 50 states, 34 tribal organizations, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. WIC services are made available through approximately 1,900 local agencies and 10,000 clinic sites.

More information about the WIC Program can be found at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to WIC, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, National School Lunch Program, and the Summer Food Service Program which together comprise America's nutrition safety net.