The time has come to initiate a new program of research on the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly referred to as WIC). WIC is the third largest food assistance program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program's scope is large, serving approximately 9.3 million low-income women, infants, and children at nutritional risk. Through federal grants to states, participants receive three types of benefits: 1) a supplemental food package tailored to specific age groups for infants and children; 2) nutrition education, including breastfeeding support; and 3) referrals to health services and social services. To cover program costs for fiscal year (FY) 2010, Congress appropriated $7.252 billion. Congress also appropriated $15 million for research related to the program for FY 2010.
The timing of the funding for WIC research is propitious. In October 2009, USDA issued regulations that made substantial revisions to the WIC food package. These revisions are the first major change in the food package since the program's inception in 1972. Over the intervening years WIC has expanded greatly, Medicaid coverage has increased, large changes have occurred in the racial and ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic status of WIC participants as well as in public health services, and obesity rates have increased substantially among the general population.
To guide its planning for the use of the $15 million allocated for WIC research, the Food and Nutrition Service of USDA asked the Institute of Medicine to conduct a two-day public workshop on emerging research needs for WIC. As requested, the workshop included presentations and discussions to illuminate issues related to future WIC research issues, methodological challenges, and solutions. The workshop also planned for a program of research to determine the effects of WIC on maternal and child health outcomes.