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History of WIC in Kentucky

In 1972, the U.S. Congress legislated the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as a two-year pilot project, under the Department of Agriculture, linking health care and food assistance for pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children considered at health risk because of malnutrition and low income.

Following the two-year trial, in 1974, the WIC program (later renamed the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) officially began in Pineville, Kentucky.  Nationally, in 1975, the program served approximately 344,000 at-risk women, infants and children up to the age of five with $83 million in funding. It was estimated in 1972 that the proportion of income-eligible women participating in WIC was 3%. That percentage rose to 40% by 1980 and to more than 50% in the 1990s.

Today more than 30 year later, WIC’s monthly food prescription, tailored to meet the specific needs of WIC clients, is provided nationally to more than 8.00 million at risk women, infants and children participants.  

WIC is recognized as the nation’s premier public health nutrition program. It has gained this reputation and garnered strong, continued bipartisan support because of its cost-effective, scientifically documented health successes.


Gateway To Good Health

WIC is a short-term intervention program designed to strengthen families by influencing lifetime nutrition and health behaviors in a targeted, high-risk population. WIC’s combination of nutrition education, nutritious foods, breastfeeding support, and health care oversight provides a gateway to good health in approximately 10,000 clinics administered by 87 state WIC programs.

To participate, WIC requires that clients have one or more documented nutritional risks and income less than or equal to 185% of the poverty level. Roughly 95% of all WIC participants are at income levels below 150% of the poverty level.

Birth Outcomes Successes

Today, approximately one in every five pregnant women in the United States is enrolled in WIC. Studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; give birth to fewer low and very low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy; and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C and vitamin A.
It costs less than $600 during the term of her pregnancy for a woman to participate in WIC. By contrast, it costs $22,000 per pound to increase a low (less than 5.5 pounds) or very low (less than 3.25 pounds) birth-weight baby to normal weight (7 pounds). WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of very low birth-weight babies by 44%. WIC participation reduces Medicaid costs an average of $12,000 to $15,000 per infant for every very low birth-weight prevented.

Breastfeeding Successes

WIC promotes breastfeeding as the preferred method of infant feeding. Breastfeeding helps mothers feel close to their babies. Breast milk contains all the nutrients needed to grow and develop. Breast-fed infants tend to be healthier because they receive antibodies from the breast milk that protect them against infection. In 1994, WIC mothers increased their breastfeeding initiation rates to 44% from 34% in 1990.

Children's Health Successes

 WIC enables parents to properly feed their children during critical early years of growth and development, assuring normal growth, reducing levels of anemia, increasing immunization rates, improving access to regular health care and improving diets. Today 47% of all infants born in the United States are on WIC. Nearly one in five children in the United States is on WIC. At certification, 87% of these children have at least two nutritional risks.
Studies have shown that low-income children enrolled in WIC have a lower prevalence of anemia than those who are not enrolled. Analyzing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System data from 1980 to 1982 shows that anemia rates among children at the six-month recertification were 16% lower than rates at the initial screening
Additionally, four and five-year-olds whose mothers participated in WIC during pregnancy have achieved better vocabulary test scores than children whose eligible mothers did not receive WIC benefits.


Last Updated 5/10/2011
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