Congress enacted the Child Nutrition Law of 1966 after recognizing the benefit that the federal school lunch program has had on the ability of American children to grow and learn at school. As an outgrowth of the Child Nutrition Law, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — also known as WIC — was established. WIC is a federal grant-based program that provides supplemental nutritious food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to the following categories of people who are nutritionally at risk: pregnant women, breastfeeding women, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants, and children up to five years of age.
In 2004, over 8 million people participated in the WIC program. WIC programs are run by state and local agencies. There are WIC programs in every state in the U.S., the District of Columbia, and the American territories. WIC programs are also run by many American Indian tribal organizations. Participants must meet income requirements, which vary among the programs. The income standard used for determining the cutoff in WIC program participation ranges from between 100 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. There are, however, several categories of participants who are automatically eligible to receive WIC benefits, including individuals who are eligible participants under the Food Stamp, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs. Finally, WIC program participants must be deemed nutritionally at risk by a health care professional.
In most state programs, WIC participants receive either food or money to purchase specific WIC-approved foods. The approved foods are high in protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, or vitamin C. Some approved foods are: peanut butter, iron-fortified infant formula or cereal, fruit and/or vegetable juices, tuna fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.
In fiscal year 2004, the federal government appropriated $ 4.77 billion to fund WIC programs. Some benefits that states have observed as a result of their WIC programs are:
- Improved pregnancy outcomes
- Reduction in the number of low birth weight babies
- An increase in first trimester prenatal care
- Increased infant head circumferences
- Savings in health care costs for each dollar spent on WIC
- Increased breastfeeding rates
- Improved rates of childhood immunization and regular medical care
- Improved intellectual development of WIC-participating children
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