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Public Health Column for the Times-News

What to know about WIC

Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2017

By Pam Foster

Let me tell you about a program that I have served for the major portion of 34 years. This is a program that is focused on providing nutrition and healthcare to our most vulnerable population — pregnant women, infants and children. This is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program, otherwise known as the “WIC” program.

WIC is a unique and complex program that supplies specific types of foods and other benefits to a highly targeted group of participants who must meet a number of eligibility requirements. WIC is not an entitlement program. The number of people who can be served is limited by funding levels established by Congress on an annual basis. Cost-containment practices such as the use of infant formula rebates — reduce food costs and allow more people to participate.

The WIC program offers three types of benefits to participants: A supplemental food package, nutrition education (often by a registered dietitian) and referrals to health care and other services. All benefits are provided to participants free of charge. Food packages are the cornerstone of the program. Accounting for about 70 percent of the programs costs, however, it is supplemental; it is not intended to be a primary source of food or general food assistance. The foods included in the packages are high in nutrients determined to be beneficial for pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants and children. Inadequate intake of such nutrients may result in adverse health consequences.

WIC makes nutrition education — including breastfeeding promotion and support — available to all participants (or to the parents or caretakers of infant and child participants). The goals of nutrition education are:

1. To emphasize the relationship between nutrition, physical activity and health — with special emphasis on the nutritional needs of pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women; infants; and children under 5 years of age — and raise awareness about the dangers of using drugs and other harmful substances during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

2. Provide counseling to the individual who is at nutritional risk to help improve their health status and hopefully achieve a positive change in dietary and physical activity habits. There is also a focus on prevention of nutrition-related problems through using supplemental foods and other nutritious foods.

3. Encourage all pregnant participants to breastfeed if possible. Each state agency is required to spend approximately 1⁄6 of its budget for nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion and support activities.

WIC was designed to supplement health care during critical times of growth and development. About 50 percent of all infants born in the United States participate in the WIC program. The program’s impacts have been widely researched to include direct and indirect (or spillover effects).

The findings indicate that WIC is associated with improved diets among children, as well as a positive association between birth weight and prenatal WIC participation. Some of the positive spillover effects are, decreasing childhood iron-deficiency anemia and access to healthy foods to family members.


Pam Foster is the nutrition services director at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at pfoster@hendersoncountync.org.

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