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USDA Report: WIC Boosts Breastfeeding, Reaches Those in Need

Posted by Audrey Rowe, Administrator, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017
WIC nutritionists discuss healthy food choices with program participants and children.
WIC nutritionists discuss healthy food choices with program participants and children.

USDA’s nutrition assistance programs provide access to a healthy diet for millions of eligible Americans each month. Whether in schools, community feeding sites, or in households across the country, they comprise a nutrition safety net to ensure that no eligible American goes hungry.

In my opinion the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as “WIC,” is indeed a special program. It provides supplemental foods to our most vulnerable -- infants, pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk.  WIC also provides referrals to social and health care services and nutrition education, including breastfeeding promotion and support.

And it’s working, as a new USDA report on WIC Participant and Program Characteristics released today shows. Researchers found, for example, that breastfeeding among WIC participants increased by four percentage points in two years.  Among WIC state agencies that reported breastfeeding data for 2012, 67 percent of all 6- to 13-month-old infants were currently breastfed or were breastfed at some time, compared with 63 percent in 2010, the last time a participant profile study was conducted. In fact, breastfeeding among WIC participants has been steadily increasing since 1998, and this year, for the first time, the percentage of breastfeeding women exceeded that of non-breastfeeding, postpartum women. That’s a good thing because breastfeeding is the optimal method of feeding infants, as it provides positive health benefits for both the mother and child.

And WIC is reaching those in need -- low-income mothers and children at nutritional risk. Among the over 9 million WIC participants who reported incomes, nearly three-quarters had incomes below the federal poverty level, as compared to 15 percent of the U.S. population. The great majority of those enrolled in WIC (76.4 percent, overall) were infants and children under the age of five, and more than half of all WIC participants were less than 3 years of age.

Good news, too, is that child obesity has begun to decline among WIC participants. In 2012, 15.3 percent of WIC children who were one year old were considered overweight compared with 16.8 percent in 2008. Similarly, for children ages two to four, 14.7 percent were overweight in 2008 compared with 14.0 percent in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control looked into this more closely using mostly WIC data from 43 States and territories on 2 to 4 year old children for 2008 to 2001. They found that reversing the previous upward trend, 19 States/territories had significant reduction in obesity and 21 showed no increase, with only 3 showing an increase.

WIC is helping to shape the future of our country in a vital way by providing expectant and nursing mothers and young children the nutrition they need for healthy birth outcomes or, in the case of the young ones, to grow up healthy and strong. In fact, earlier research has shown that WIC has been playing in important role in improving birth outcomes, including fewer premature births, and containing healthcare costs.  This is a program that is not only providing nutrition to low income families, but reducing infant mortality and truly creating a Healthier Next Generation.

La versión de este blog está disponible en español (A version of this blog is available in Spanish).

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition