WIC saves 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 nation’s 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 Outcomes
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 Practices
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 percent;
- 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 participation.19
Improved Cognitive Development
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 Status
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:
- 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 pregnancy.
- WIC improves the growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and children.
- 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 children’s diets.
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.