Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals
  • Expert Commentary

The Women's, Infants, and Children's (WIC) program provides nutritious food and nutrition education to low- and moderate-income pregnant women and small children. The program is particularly aimed at women and children at risk for poor nutrition, and children are the largest category of WIC participants

The WIC program is a federal program created in the early 1970s to respond to concerns about poor nutrition among women and pre-school children. Local non-profit agencies, health centers, and hospitals administer the program across Massachusetts, using both federal and state funds. Residents of Massachusetts are eligible for the WIC program if they have incomes below 185% of the federal poverty level, have nutritional need (as determined by WIC staff), and are either a child under five, a new mother, or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman. (A parent or guardian may apply for WIC on behalf of his or her child). Families enrolled in certain benefit programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TAFDC (cash assistance) are automatically eligible for the program.

WIC enrollees receive a card that allows them get free nutritious foods and baby formula at authorized grocery stores and pharmacies. The program also provides nutrition education and counseling and referrals to health care providers and other social service programs.

WIC is not an entitlement program, however, and the Congress must authorize federal funding for the program each year. The WIC program also receives funding via rebates from infant formula manufacturers (see 4513-1012). State funding from this line item allows the program to serve more participants.

Updated, February 2018

Recent resarch continues to find a positive association between birth weight and prenatal WIC participation. However, estimates adjusted for gestational age bias, such as measures of fetal growth, indicate a weaker association with WIC. Overall, research suggests that WIC is associated with improved diets among children, as measured by the intake of fats, carbohydrates, added sugars and variety of foods consumed. As with earlier WIC evaluations, the most common finding in recent research is a lower likelihood of breastfeeding and a higher likelihood of formula feeding among WIC participants relative to nonparticipants.

"Effects of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): A Review of Recent Research" (Nutrition Assistance Program Report Series, Office of Research and Analysis, USDA, January 2012, p.81).