Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2020 - Charts

Resource type
Research type
Assessing/Improving Operations
Participation Characteristics
Program Access

Figure 1: WIC Participation, 1992–2020

In April 2020, there were 7.0 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 percent from 2010 to 2016 and an additional decline of 20 percent from 2016 to 2020.

Figure 2. Participant Household Income as a Percentage of Federal Poverty Guidelines, 2020

Most WIC participants (close to 90 percent) 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 State of residency and are used to determine eligibility for certain programs, including WIC. In most areas served by WIC in 2020, a household of four with an annual income of $47,638 or less was eligible for WIC.


Figure 3. Broad Categories of Assigned Nutritional Risk, 2020

In order to participate in WIC, applicants must be determined to be at nutritional risk on the basis of a medical or nutrition assessment by a physician, nutritionist, dietitian, nurse, or other competent professional authority (CPA). During the certification process, CPAs determine whether applicants have at least one of the 84 currently allowed nutritional risk criterion for WIC eligibility.

Federal regulations require at least one nutritional risk criterion be documented at the time of certification; however, competent professional authorities may document multiple risks and State agencies report up to 10 nutritional risk criteria per participant.

In 2020, 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).


Figure 4. Breastfeeding Initiation by State, 2004–2020

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.

Nationally, the percentage of 6- to 13-month-old infants and children participating in WIC who initiate breastfeeding (i.e., reported as currently or ever breastfed) has generally improved over time. In 2020, breastfeeding initiation was reported for nearly 72 percent of all 6- to 13-month-old infants and children. This proportion has been consistent since 2016, after a steady rise since 2004.


Figure 5. Rates of Obesity Among 2- to 4-Year-Old Children by State, 1992-2020

Measurements for children ages 2 years and older are compared with the statistical norms in the general population using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts. These comparisons are used to track growth and identify participants who qualify for certain nutritional risks.

The prevalence of obesity among 2- to 4-year-old children participating in WIC increased between 1992 and 2010, peaking at 16 percent in 2008 and 2010. Prevalence of obesity among 2- to 4-year-old children participating in WIC then decreased to 14 percent in 2016 before increasing again to 15 percent in 2020.

Page updated: December 20, 2023