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WIC: Strengthening Kentucky Families for 40 Years

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, Ky.

Deborah Holland and her son Robert Marlin Holland were the first participants to be certified at the first WIC clinic in Pineville January 1974. The people there to greet Holland and her son were Betty Hopkins the public health nurse at the Pineville clinic, Peggy Kidd Staley, then-director of nutrition for the state of Kentucky and Dr. Laurel True the chief state health officer for the state of Kentucky.

The WIC Program in Kentucky has grown over the years. By September 1974, the new WIC Program was serving 8,000 WIC clients in Bell, Bourbon, Boyd, Breathitt, Campbell, Carter, Clinton, Elliott, Floyd, Fulton, Harlan, Jefferson, Kenton, Knott, Lawrence, Leslie, Letcher, McCreary, Muhlenberg, Perry, Pulaski, Rowan and Wayne counties. Kentucky became a statewide program in 1978.

An additional 15 states participated in the first evaluation of the two-year pilot program that led to the establishment of WIC as a nationwide nutrition assistance program. Vermont implemented the first statewide WIC Program. The other states were; Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, New York, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Carolina, Wisconsin.

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 3 percent of income-eligible women participated in WIC. That percentage rose to 40 percent by 1980 and to more than 50 percent in the 1990s. 

Today 40 years later, WIC monthly food prescription, tailored to meet the specific needs of WIC clients, is provided nationally to more than 8.9 million participants each month through 10,000 clinics nationwide in 2012. 

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. 

To participate, WIC requires that clients have one or more documented nutritional risks and income less than or equal to 185 percent of the poverty level or on Medicaid. Roughly 64 percent of WIC participants reside in families with income below the poverty level. In 2010, 86 percent of pregnant women, 85 percent of breastfeeding women and 87 percent of postpartum women participants were between the ages of 18-34 and 5 percent of women participants were younger than 17.

Birth Outcomes Successes

Today, approximately 52 percent of pregnant women enroll in WIC during their first trimester and 25 percent of pregnant women enrolled have three or more nutrition risk factors. 

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, vitamin C and vitamin A.  

It costs approximately $759 a year for a WIC participant. Preterm births cost the U.S. more than $26 billion a year and the average first-year medical costs for a premature/low birth-weight baby is $49,033 compared to $4,551 for a baby without complications. Medicaid participants on WIC have on average 29 percent lower Medicaid costs for infant hospitalizations.  

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.

Breastfed infants tend to be healthier because they receive antibodies from breast milk that protects against infection. In 2010, survey data indicated that 63 percent of WIC infants ages 6-13 months were breastfed. Participation in the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program is associated with an increased rate of breastfeeding initiation.

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 50 percent of all infants born in the United States are on WIC. WIC interventions can help improve health behaviors that are linked to reducing early childhood obesity.

Food package changes in 2009 were followed by improved dietary intake and obesity reduction among WIC children. WIC nutrition education leads to an increased consumption of whole grains, fruits, and lower-fat milk. Participation in WIC significantly increases the healthy eating index scores for households. 


Last Updated 2/3/2017