Too many families are not taking advantage of the WIC nutrition program

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, has been in existence for 50 years and provides food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals to low-income mothers, pregnant women and their children under 5 years old.

About half of infants born nationwide benefit from the federal initiative, which Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers recently found was linked to better birth outcomes and decreased infant mortality.

But not everyone who could benefit from this vaunted resource took advantage of it. There were 12.13 million women and children eligible to participate in WIC in 2021, but just over half — 51 percent, or 6.21 million — actually did so, the Food and Service Service reported. Nutrition of the United States Department of Agriculture.

In Illinois that year, 44.2 percent of families who qualified for WIC were not enrolled. Currently, only a little more than a third of the 419,000 eligible participants in the state are registered, according to a recent Sun-Times report by Hoda Emam.

While food insecurity remains a challenge, increasing enrollment in a program designed to reduce hunger and improve the health of mothers and youngest children should be a priority.

Education and awareness are obviously essential here. If people don’t know WIC exists, they can’t even take the steps to find out if they’re eligible. If undocumented immigrants feel like they might be reported or that their immigration status might be compromised if they even attempt to determine their eligibility or participate, fear and hesitancy will keep them away.

Pediatricians and others, including staff at social service agencies who may have direct contact with mothers and pregnant women who may be eligible, should regularly alert them of the existence of WIC, which has just been granted a fully funded for fiscal year 2024.

The state should also intensify existing public awareness campaigns and boost the distribution of brochures or public service announcements on traditional and social media. More pop-up clinics, where women could go to fulfill the requirement to apply in person, could also go a long way in getting the word out.

It might also be useful to evaluate how access to WIC can be improved in Illinois, which currently has no online application in the state. In-person applications may be more helpful for some, submitting birth certificates, Social Security cards, and W2 tax statements to register. But for others, would a process to scan these documents and submit them with a single click save time while remaining secure?

The program, as some parents note, has drawbacks, such as limited food choices. Less processed foods, for example, are sometimes not eligible.

But the numbers clearly show that too many mothers and their children are not taking advantage of the options available to them.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and opinion pieces. See our guidelines.

Leave a Reply