WIC Program Overview and History
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a short-term intervention program designed to influence lifetime nutrition and health behaviors in a targeted, high-risk population.
WIC clinics provide:
Breastfeeding Promotion & Support
Screenings and Referrals for Healthcare and Social Services
Who Can Participate in the WIC Program?
WIC is for low-income pregnant and post-partum women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk.
- Low-income: Applicants must have income at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, or be enrolled in TANF, SNAP, or Medicaid.
- Nutrition risk: Applicants are screened by health professionals for 1) Medically-based risks such as anemia, underweight, smoking, maternal age, history of pregnancy complications, or poor pregnancy outcomes and 2) diet-based risks such as not consuming the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended amount of protein or iron in their diet.
What are WIC Approved Foods?
WIC provides certain healthy foods to supplement the dietary needs of participants to ensure good health and development. See a list of WIC Foods, allowable alternatives, and the key nutrients they provide.
How is WIC Funded?
WIC is a public health nutrition program under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is a domestic discretionary program funded annually through the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations Committee. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) drafts WIC’s annual budget proposal for the Federal fiscal year (Oct 1-Sept 30). Through the funding process Congress determines the level of funding that the Program will receive each year. Once the appropriation passes Congress and is signed into law, grants are provided to each state, and administered at the local level by county and city health centers, or private nonprofits. See details on how WIC funding is broken down in individual states.
What are WIC Health Outcomes?
Numerous studies show that WIC is effective and helps:
- Reduce premature births
- Reduce low and very low birth-weight babies
- Reduce fetal and infant deaths
- Reduce the incidence of low-iron anemia
- Increase access to prenatal care earlier in pregnancy
- Increase pregnant women’s consumption of key nutrients such as iron, protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and C
- Increase immunization rates
- Improve diet quality
- Increase access to regular health care
Browse our Bibliography for WIC-relevant research sorted by topic.
What is WIC's History?
- 1972: WIC was piloted as a supplemental food program aimed at improving the health of pregnant mothers, infants and children in response to growing concern over malnutrition among many poverty-stricken mothers and young children.
- 1974: The first WIC site opened in Kentucky in January.
- 1974: WIC was operating in 45 States.
- 1975: WIC was established as a permanent Program by legislation P.L. 94-105.
- 1975: Eligibility was extended to nonbreastfeeding women (up to 6 months postpartum) and children up to age 5. WIC had initially provided supplemental foods to children up to age 4 and to breast-feeding postpartum mothers.
- 1978: Legislation introduced new elements into the Program:
- Nutrition education must be provided.
- The supplemental foods should contain nutrients found lacking in the target population, and have relatively low levels of fat, sugar, and salt.
- States needed to coordinate referrals to social services including immunization, alcohol and drug abuse prevention, child abuse counseling, and family planning.
- 1992: WIC introduced an enhanced food package for exclusively breastfeeding mothers to further promote breastfeeding.
- 1997: USDA implemented Loving Support Makes Breastfeeding Work campaign to increase breastfeeding rates among WIC mothers and improve public support of breastfeeding.
- 2004: The Breastfeeding Peer Counselor initiative was launched: Women with breastfeeding experience and training (often past WIC participants) became counselors to support other women learning to breastfeed.
- 2009: Based on Institute of Medicine recommendations, USDA introduced a new food package with foods consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for American and established dietary recommendations for infants and children over two years of age. Fruits, vegetables, and culturally sensitive substitutes for WIC foods are now part of the WIC food package. In addition, mothers who exclusively breastfeed receive more healthy foods with the enhanced WIC food package for exclusively breastfeeding mothers.
Learn more in the USDA’s publication The WIC Program: Background, Trends, and Issues.