The WIC Program meets the nutritional needs of 8.2 million at-risk people each month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC--the acronym for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children--is overseen by the department's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in conjunction with 90 state agencies.
In 1967, the National Nutrition Survey revealed alarming dietary and health trends among low-income Americans. Partly in response to this study, Senators Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and Robert Dole drafted the 1972 bill that created the WIC Program, according to PHFE-WIC.org.
WIC was first implemented as a test project that offered two nutrition services: one for infants and another for breastfeeding women and children. Eligible participants received foods rich in calcium, iron, protein and vitamins A and C. In 1974, the first clinic opened in Pineville, Kentucky.
By 1975, 44 additional sites were added, Congress established WIC as a full-fledged national initiative and monthly participation was at 88,000.
According to the 2009 Economic Research Report No. (ERR-73), in the 1980s, WIC had six nutritional programs in place and started serving non-breastfeeding postpartum women and four-year-old children. In 1990, monthly participation was up to 1.9 million and a FNS study revealed that WIC mothers had lower Medicaid costs and their babies had higher birth weights than non-participants.
In 2007, WIC overhauled its six food programs which, according to the ERR report, "had remained largely unchanged since the 1970s, even as...participants' nutritional risks changed and nutritional science advanced." Besides supplying food vouchers, the now 10,000 clinics also offer dietary education, nutritional counseling and health care referrals.
In 2002, former President George W. Bush praised the service as "one of the nation's most successful and cost effective early intervention programs." WIC aids 45 percent of infants, 25 percent of children up to age five and 37 percent of pregnant women in the U.S., according to the FNS.
- Leena M. Lewis