The Public Interest

Is WIC as good as they say?

Douglas J. Besharov & Peter Germanis

Winter 1999

WIC WORKS, perhaps better than any other government program in existence,” Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman recently declared. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan agreed: “The WIC Program results in significant Medicaid savings that far outweigh the program’s costs by a ratio of 3 to 1.... That is clearly an overwhelming return on a small national investment.” Such statements testify to the extraordinary bipartisan support enjoyed by WIC. Officially known as the “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children,” WIC is a several billion dollar program, serving millions of women and children.  The programs popularity stems from the widespread belief that research studies have proven that WIC “works.” But, although some studies suggest real dietary and health improvements, the great benefits cited above apply only to WICs prenatal program (only a small part of the total program). Even here the evidence suggests much more modest effects than WICs boosters claim.

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