In April 2018, there were 7.8 million people certified to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The number of participants increased from 1992 through 2010. Since 2010, the number of participants has steadily decreased. Participation declined by 12.0 percent from 2010 to 2016 and an additional 11.1 percent from 2016 to 2018.
Most WIC participants come from households with income at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines issued each year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These income guidelines vary by household size and residency and are used to determine eligibility for certain programs, including WIC.
During the eligibility determination and certification processes, WIC staff collect anthropometric, biochemical, medical history, and dietary information from applicants and participants to determine whether they have at least one qualifying nutritional risk criterion for WIC eligibility.
To determine nutritional risk, a competent professional authority conducts a nutrition assessment during the WIC certification process. Federal regulations require that at least one nutritional risk criterion be documented at the time of certification; however, competent professional authorities may document up to 10 nutritional risk criteria per participant.
In 2018, anthropometric risks and clinical/health/medical risks were most commonly reported for women, and dietary risks were most commonly reported for children. For infants, other risks were most commonly reported (e.g., infant of a WIC-eligible mother/mother at risk during pregnancy, infant member of a breastfeeding mother and infant dyad).
Since the passage of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (PL 101–147) in 1989, WIC has strengthened its breastfeeding promotion and support efforts. State and local agencies have developed a range of strategies to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration among participants, which include providing current, accurate breastfeeding information through individual or group education for participants and their families; sponsoring peer-counselor programs and support groups; creating breastfeeding-friendly clinic environments and community partnerships; and providing ongoing staff education and training.
The percentage of 6- to 13-month-old infants and children who initiated breastfeeding (i.e., reported as currently or ever breastfed) has generally improved over time. In 2018, nearly 72 percent of all 6- to 13-month-old infants and children initiated breastfeeding. This 0.5-percentage-point increase from 2016 continued an upward trend consistently observed since current reporting practices began in 2004.