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Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC)

 

Food insecurity is particularly harmful in early childhood, a period of rapid growth and brain development.  Compared to their counterparts in food-secure households, infants and toddlers from food-insecure families are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health and 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized. An estimated 16 million children live in households where food is scarce. 

Through the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), low-income and nutritionally vulnerable pregnant and breastfeeding moms, and children up to 5 years of age receive essential nutrition through science-based supplemental food packages created to enhance the diets of women and young children, providing only foods that are inadequately consumed in their diets. Currently in its 41st year, WIC serves 53% of all infants born in the US.  WIC supports breastfeeding mothers through education and peer counseling and by connecting families to medical homes and improving access to prenatal care, immunization rates, and routine health maintenance. 

Every $1 spent on preventative services for a pregnant woman in the WIC program saves Medicaid up to $4.20 by reducing the risk of pre-term birth and associated costs. Pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; have fewer low weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy and consume more of key nutrients such as iron, protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and C. 

WIC participation helps reduce household food insecurity that can lead to toxic stress and improves healthful behaviors that are linked to reducing early childhood overweight. WIC also helps to ensure infants' and children's normal growth and improves access to health care and immunizations. 

  • USDA's WIC website, report and summary on the WIC program with recent data and program trends
  • Resources​ from the National WIC Association
  • Research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on how WIC works
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities piece on WIC costs and participation

Federal Advocacy Activity

In May 2015, AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee. In her remarks, Dr. Hassink addressed sound, appropriate nutrition as a building block for the foundation of children's health, and explained how child nutrition programs, such as WIC, play an important role in mitigating the double burden of obesity and food insecurity among children and families. Dr. Hassink also urged the committee to support the WIC breastfeeding peer counseling program with an increase in authorization of funding. 

Sen. Casey (D-Pa.) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced the AAP-supported Wise Investment in our Children (WIC) Act, which would allow states to extend eligibility for children on WIC to age six. Currently, children are eligible for WIC up until their fifth birthday, at which point many enter public school where they may qualify for school breakfast and lunch programs that continue to supplement their intake of nutritious foods. A child's birthdate, however, impacts his or her eligibility to enter school, and a significant number of children remain ineligible well past their fifth birthday. This bill would allow states to extend eligibility for children to age six in order to close this gap and give states the option to extend the WIC certification period for infants from one year to two years. 

As the child nutrition reauthorization process progresses, AAP is concerned about a proposal to limit access to WIC by delinking eligibility for WIC from Medicaid. Called "adjunctive eligibility," this allows Medicaid-eligible pregnant women and children to be automatically eligible for WIC, creating more efficiency and simpler paperwork processes for families. Linking WIC (a preventive health program) to Medicaid (a health insurance program) makes sense: WIC helps prevent nutrition related illnesses, developmental problems, and chronic diseases, which would be paid for by Medicaid.

The AAP's position is outlined here in a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal by Then-AAP Executive Director and CEO Errol Alden, MD, FAAP, and here in a piece in the Chicago Sun Times by AAP President Sandra Hassink, MD, FAAP, and Illinois AAP Chapter Vice President Alison Tothy, MD, FAAP. The AAP also worked with pediatricians to place opinion-editorials on the importance of adjunctive eligibility in the Montgomery Advertiser, the Sun Sentinel, the Winston-Salem Journal, and The State.

Additional Resources:

  • A letter from AAP and several other organizations to Congressional leaders that outlines several recommendations for WIC reauthorization
  • AAP's endorsement letter of the Wise Investment in Our Children Act of 2015
  • S. 1796 and H.R. 2660, the Wise Investment in our Children Act of 2015
  • Factsheet from the National WIC Association highlighting the estimated cost of conducting income screening using paystubs versus through adjunctive eligibility

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