National WIC Association

WIC Participant and Program Characteristics FAQs

January 15, 2016

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published the WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2014 (PC 2014) report. This biennial report provides nationwide demographic information on WIC program participants as well as information on participant income and nutrition risk characteristics. Both a summary and full report can be accessed here. Below are some frequently asked questions about the PC 2014.

How is data for the PC report collected?
The data that is used in the WIC Participant and Program Characteristics (WIC PC) report is a census of participant and program characteristics of all individuals enrolled in WIC in the reference month of April. The current system for reporting participant data is based on the automated transfer of an agreed-upon set of data elements. State WIC agencies download routinely collected information from their existing automated client and management information systems. State and local WIC staff use these data to certify applicant eligibility for WIC benefits and to issue food instruments. This set of 20 agreed-upon items is known as the Minimum Data Set (MDS) and was developed by FNS working with the Information Committee of the National WIC Association (formerly the National Association of WIC Directors) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What does PC data represent?
The WIC PC data represents a census of WIC individuals enrolled in the program in April of the reporting year; 9.3 million individuals from 90 State agencies in WIC PC 2014.

Why is this the 2014 PC report, but it’s 2016?
The report describes data collected in April 2014.

How is final PC data used and by whom?
The WIC PC report summarizes the demographic characteristics of participants in WIC nationwide in April 2014. It includes information on topics such as participant income, nutrition risk characteristics, and breastfeeding initiation rates. Since 1988, FNS has produced biennial reports on participant and program characteristics in WIC. FNS uses the information for general program monitoring as well as for managing the information needs of the program. FNS uses this regularly updated WIC information to estimate budgets, submit civil rights reporting, identify research needs, and review current and proposed WIC policies and procedures. Outside of FNS, State agencies, researchers, and other WIC stakeholders use the WIC PC report as a comprehensive data source for WIC participant and program characteristics over time. The WIC PC report is published on the FNS website, and a nationally representative data set is available for public use by request.

Has anything of note changed since the last PC report?
A few notable changes include the proportion of breastfeeding women exceeding that of non-breastfeeding postpartum women, continuing the trend exhibited for the first time in the PC 2012 report. In PC 2014 among all WIC participants, 7.4 percent were breastfeeding women and 6.6 percent were postpartum non-breastfeeding women. Additionally, anemia rates were slightly lower in 2014, reversing the trend from 2002 to 2012. Anemia rates of postpartum women increased from 2002 (35.3 percent) to 2012 (38.5 percent), but decreased in 2014 to 38 percent. Similarly, anemia rates of breastfeeding women increased from 2002 (24.5 percent) to 2012 (34.2 percent), but in 2014 decreased to 33.4 percent.

What’s the difference between PC data and FNS administrative data? The participation numbers look different.
In PC, the term “participants” is defined as persons on WIC master lists or persons listed in WIC operating files who are certified to receive WIC benefits in April 2014. This definition differs from WIC’s regulatory definition of participants, which is based on an actual claim of WIC benefits that generally includes receipt of a WIC food instrument. Also included in WIC PC are those included in the regulatory definition of participants: partially breastfeeding women who receive no WIC foods or food instruments but who are partially breastfeeding their infants who are receiving WIC foods or food instruments, and infants who receive no WIC foods or food instruments but are being fully breastfed by their mothers who are receiving WIC food or food instruments. The definitional difference of individuals certified to receive benefits rather than actual claim or receipt of benefits results in a count of PC2014 WIC participants that is approximately 11 percent greater than the number of participants in regular program accounting reports for April 2014. This percentage difference is similar to previously reported differences in these biennial statistics.