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Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children

  1. Abstract

This paper critiques a public policy by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The policy was established to offer nutritional service to women, infant, and children, following the realization that this nutritional-risk group was suffering from unpreventable health conditions resulting from malnutrition. The present research critique examines the extent of the nutritional problem, and how WIC policy addresses it. It also examines the effectiveness of the program in offering health and nutritional services to women and children. To do this, this paper reviews data from USDA as well as some scholarly published studies.

2.      Nutrition Problem

The diet of an expectant mother is a key determinant of the fetus development as well as the mother’s health during and after pregnancy. Breastfed infants rely heavily on the content of the mother’s diet through breast milk. Scholars have found that the rate of infant mortality is high among the poor America who rarely get sufficient nutrients from their diet. In addition, children under five years are in a fast development stage and thus require adequate nutrients for development. For these reasons, women, infant, and children have special diet needs over and above what an ordinary person may consume on daily basis.

Women and adolescent girls are more likely to suffer from nutritional deficiency than men, even if they share a similar diet. Reasons such as women’s reproductive biology and disparity in household duties contribute to malnutrition among women than men. The risk of malnutrition is even higher in pregnant women due to the increased nutrient needs during pregnancy. As Khanani (204) points out, 50% of pregnant women suffer from one or more nutrition problem, with the most common being iron deficiency anemia. Although these problems are more prevalent in developing countries, some American women also experience malnutrition during pregnancy. According to USDA report, malnutrition is high among the poverty-stricken groups such as African-American women (fns.usda.gov).

While adequate nutrition is fundamental for every individual, it is even more crucial in women. Women are the pillars of the family, and thus, health issues in a woman are likely to be transferred to the rest of the family members. Malnutrition weakens a woman’s fertility as well as the ability to sustain pregnancy. They also become more susceptible to infections that pose health risks to their children. A woman’s health is nutrition during pregnancy is vital to health of the child. According to the Bread for the World Institute, malnutrition during the first 1000 days of a child results in permanent impairment in the child’s cognitive ability. Additionally, malnutrition during the child’s first year puts them at a higher risk for nutrition problems such as obesity in the future. For this reason, caring for the nation begin with taking care of women, infant and children’s health.

3.      Policy Program

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), is a federal government programs that food supplement and nutrition education to women, infants and children from low-income families. It is contained in US Code Tittle 7, Subtitle B, Chapter II, Subchapter A, part 246. WIC was first piloted in 1972 as a public health nutrition program under the Department of Agriculture (ecfr.gov). In addition to giving dietary supplement, WIC also promotes breastfeeding as the most efficient feeding method for infants. The US congress proposed WIC as a reply to the many malnutrition concerns among women and children in the low-income families. Despite having been piloted in 1972, WIC was approved as US legislation in 1975, established in public law 95-105 (ecfr.gov). Initially, the program catered for pregnant mothers only. It was then extended to include children up to five years and breastfeeding mothers for up to six months postpartum.

4.      Context

Although WIC program is open to all American women and children, there are set eligibility criteria. The basic consideration for includes women pregnant at the moment of application or breastfeeding and children under age 5. However, other than the basic requirements, the WIC official identifies whether the applicant is at a nutritional risk. This may be informed by their level of income or medical history. Applicants are taken through a WIC eligibility tool as the first stage of application to assess their eligibility. Local organization who wishes to distribute WIC services may also apply to through the WIC state offices in which they serve. Local agencies are eligible only if they are nonprofit health or human services provider, irrespective of whether they are publicly or privately owned. In addition, they should be serving in low-income population where WIC identifies nutritional risks.

The WIC legislation has undergone several amendments in the effort to align it with the changing needs of the target group. Its first comprehensive change was done in 2007 in response to the public concerns regarding the WIC food packages. This 2007 amendment aligned the food packaging standards of WIC aids to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM), recommendations.

  1. Process/Translation

The effectiveness of WIC program has elicited mixed feelings among the American. There has been a division among the scholars on whether the policy is as effective as the government portrays it. However, an uncontested fact is that the program costs the US taxpayer billions of money, with its budget estimate in the 2016 Obama’s proposal amounting to $ 6.62 billion. When it was formed in 1974s, the program reached out to only 88,000 women and children at a cost of $10.4 million, today WIC serves about 8.5 million mothers and children every month (cbpp.org). Nevertheless, is the program worth that much?

According to various published studies conducted from 1980s to date, the program has improved the health status of millions women and children (Bitler 74). Citing the relevant published studies, United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), elaborates that WIC has led to improved birth outcomes and has greatly saved unnecessary health costs that are attributed to birth defects. Some of the improvement recorded includes low birth weights, reduced incidences of premature births and fewer reports of infant deaths. In addition, USDA reports that WIC have led to reduced dietary conditions such as anemia and improved children immunization.

Although the studies cited by the USDA are authentic, the question remains whether the benefits realized from the program justify the amount of billions channeled to it. Even without citing the scientific studies, a reasonable person would expect the outcomes cited. For instance, providing balanced diet automatically eliminates dietary issues; but are American women and children’s diet and nutritional deficiency amounting to the billions funding WIC? This critique finds that it is difficult to quantify the success of WIC to compare it with the amount of taxpayer’s dollars channeled on it. Firstly, the success of the program would be quantifiable if scientist conducts a study that compares health outcome between a beneficiary group and a control group, all other factors kept constant. Nonetheless, the issue involves medical services and thus, it will be illogical to deny the service to the neediest for the sake of the study. In addition, some factors such as income and individual person’s decision and diet preference cannot be kept constant.

  1. Evaluation

As of the moment, the defenders of the WIC policy assess its effectiveness by comparing the contemporary improvements in health of women and children witnessed since the inception of WIC (fns.usda.gov). They also compare the birth outcomes of the WIC beneficiaries with those outside the program. However, other factors are responsible for the improvement or lack of it. For instance, the life of Americans today is different from how it was four decades ago when the program was launched. In addition, the population that is not put under WIC is believed to be at no nutritional risk. For these reasons, studies showing positive outcomes are as good as the logical argument for WIC; the question remains how many Americans are in dire need of WIC?

In answering this question, the researcher notes that scientific studies reports that WIC results in positive outcome among the low-income population. For the studies that are performed in relatively well-off population, the improvement recorded is modest. Reasonably, WIC supplements can be effective if they add something that would otherwise not be present on the beneficiary’s diet. Supplements are resource wasted when given to an individual who would have obtained it from a raw diet. Even without questioning the evaluation criteria for WIC eligibility, the researcher holds that some of the people benefiting from the program may not needy. This is the reason why several studies have only a modest difference between the WIC beneficiaries and the control group. If indeed 8.5 million mothers and children in today’s America cannot meet the minimum diet requirement, then America as a developed country needs to assess its poverty eradication policies.

7.      Recommendations and Conclusion

The WIC is in no doubt a significant program to some of the needy Americans. However, the program could be under abuse if extended to those who do not necessarily need it. Therefore, the policy makers should target to reduce the aid to those who are not at a dire need and instead, focus their attention to the most need. Presently, all WIC beneficiaries in the same target category receive uniform service aid. However, it is not possible, for instance, that all women under WIC have the same level of needs and abilities. Some are in urgent need of WIC grants while others are not; for this reason, the WIC should not be granted uniformly but as per the necessity.

Secondly, the government should capitalize in overall public awareness on what constitutes healthy diet. Although women and children have special dietary needs, some people are simply not aware of what constitutes a healthy diet. Some of the children are placed under WIC program after medical referrals but not because their parents do not have sufficient income. Therefore, there is the need to raise awareness to the public on heathy diets and nutrition requirements.

The WIC is, in no doubt, a relevant public policy that has led to improved health among women and children from low-income families. Although there are challenges in evaluating its effectiveness, common knowledge that the program can indeed bear fruits. Moreover, scientific studies have proved that the program is necessary by reporting positive outcomes. However, the program could be under abuse if it is offered to people who are not necessarily needy. The government should therefore ensure that those placed under the program are actually needy.

  1. Works Cited

Bitler, Marianne P., and Janet Currie. “Does WIC work? The effects of WIC on pregnancy and birth outcomes.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 24.1 (2005): 73-91. http://www.princeton.edu/~jcurrie/publications/Does_WIC_Work.pdf.

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Policy Basics: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Web. 21 February, 2015  http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=5268

Khanani, Intisar, et al. “The impact of prenatal WIC participation on infant mortality and racial disparities.” American journal of public health 100.S1 (2010): S204-S209. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447164/

The White House. Office of Management and Budget: President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget? http://www.whitehouse.gov/interactive-budget

United States Department of Agriculture. Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Web. 21 February, 2015 http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/about-wic-how-wic-helps

United States Government Publishing Office. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Part 246—Special Supplemental Nutrition Program For Women, Infants And Children. (February 19, 2015). Web. 21 February, 2015  http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=62b81407e49f68d2717e082bc55ba74d&node=pt7.4.246&rgn=div5#se7.4.246_112