United States during the earliest stages of life and thus has the potential to promote both the short- and long-term health of the nation.

In 1974, Congress authorized $100 million for the WIC program for fiscal year 1975 (U.S. Congress, Pub. L. No. 93-326, 1974); by the end of June 1975, more than 200,000 women, infants, and children were participating in the program. From the start, the WIC program has worked to improve the nutrition of eligible low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women;3 infants;4 and children.5 The WIC program does this by providing four main benefits: (1) supplemental food; (2) nutrition education; (3) breastfeeding support; and (4) referrals to health and social services. About three-fourths of funds for the WIC program are used to provide the food packages.

Unlike other federal food assistance programs, WIC is a highly targeted nutrition program. It aims “to provide supplemental nutritious food as an adjunct to good health care during such critical times of growth and development … to prevent the occurrence of health problems” (U.S. Congress, Pub. L. No. 94-105, 1975) and “improve the health status of these persons” (U.S. Congress, Pub. L. No. 95-627, 1978). In fiscal year 2003, the WIC program served an average of 7.6 million women, infants, and children per month at a total yearly cost of $4.5 billion (FNS, 2004f). The cost for the supplemental food that year was $3.2 billion (FNS, 2004f). However, WIC is not an entitlement program; the numbers of eligible women, infants, and children who can be served by the WIC program may be limited by the amount of funds appropriated to the program. To meet the WIC program’s goals of disease prevention and health promotion most effectively, the supplemental foods provided in the food packages must help address current nutritional concerns for participant groups while controlling costs. Thus, the food packages should be designed to improve participants’ food and nutrient intake to promote improved health.

Throughout the 30 years of the WIC program, many changes have occurred in the demographics and health risks of the population served, in


Pregnant women must be recertified after delivery. For the purposes of describing WIC participants, the term postpartum refers to women who have recently delivered a baby and are not breastfeeding. Currently in the WIC program, a woman is considered to be breastfeeding if she is providing breast milk on the average of at least once a day. If a woman is WIC-eligible after delivery, she will be recertified (a) for 6 months if not breastfeeding or (b) for 12 months if breastfeeding. Women who stop breastfeeding between 6 and 12 months following delivery become categorically ineligible and are removed from the WIC program.


For the purposes of describing WIC participants, the term infants is used exclusively for individuals from birth to the first birthday.


For the purposes of describing WIC participants, the term children is used for individuals from the first birthday to the fifth birthday (ages 1 year through 4 years). Five-year-olds are not eligible to participate in the WIC program.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement