WIC as a Public Health Intervention


Alternative TextThe Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides nutrition education, healthy food, breastfeeding support and healthcare referrals for income-eligible women. This includes women who are pregnant or postpartum, as well as infants, and children up to age 5. WIC is a short-term resource designed to influence lifetime health outcomes.

WIC Eligibility and Funding

WIC eligibility is based on meeting certain categorical, residential, income and nutrition risk requirements. In fiscal year 2017, WIC served 7.3 million women, infants and children with an average monthly benefit of $41.23. Of those who are eligible for WIC, about half receive benefits.

In fiscal year 2017, the total cost of food, nutrition services, and administration of WIC was $5.6 billion. Congress reviews and reauthorizes federal funding for WIC every five years. WIC was last reauthorized by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S.3307), which expired in 2015. WIC is due for its next reauthorization in 2020.

State Administration of WIC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides grants to state agencies, and the Department of Health or Human Services typically administers the program. State agencies are tasked with recruiting and approving local agencies, such as county health departments, hospitals and community centers to provide WIC services to clients.

Most state WIC programs provide vouchers that participants use at authorized food stores. A wide variety of state and local organizations cooperate to provide WIC services and 46,000 merchants nationwide accept WIC vouchers. WIC is available in all 50 states, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations, American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Health Impacts

Research from USDA and non-government entities over the past several decades has shown that WIC improves lifetime health outcomes and leads to savings in health care costs.

Outcomes associated with WIC participation:

  • Fewer premature births.
  • Fewer fetal and infant deaths.
  • Reduction in low birth weight rates.
  • Increased duration of pregnancy.
  • Improved growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and children.
  • Improved dietary intake of pregnant and postpartum women.
  • Improved weight gain in pregnant women.
  • Earlier receival of prenatal care.
  • Decreased incidence of iron deficiency anemia in children.
  • More regular medical care and up-to-date immunizations for children.
  • Improved intellectual development in children.
  • Improved dietary intake for children.
  • Savings in health care costs for women, infants and children.

Breastfeeding and WIC

Breastfeeding promotion and support is a core component of the nutrition services offered through WIC. Research continues to show that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for infants as it provides many health, economic and emotional benefits to both mother and infant.

Breastfeeding rates are steadily improving among WIC participants. The WIC program promotes breastfeeding as the optimal infant feeding choice, and all WIC staff are trained to promote breastfeeding and provide the necessary support to new breastfeeding mothers, such as:

  • Breastfeeding peer counselors,
  • Lactation consultants,
  • Breastfeeding aids such as breast pumps, breast shells, etc.,
  • Classes and support groups,
  • Educational materials, and
  • Hotlines and online platforms for assistance.

Additional Resources

Written by Rosa Rada, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow for the NCSL Hunger Partnership, May 2018.

For more information, visit the Hunger and Nutrition homepage or contact Ann Morse, NCSL Hunger Partnership director.