Rethinking WIC: An Evaluation of the Women, Infants, and Children Program

Rethinking WIC is a comprehensive analysis of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC is a $5 billion per year program and serves about 7.3 million women and children. WIC provides vouchers to low-income families to purchase specific high-nutrition food packages to supplement diets, nutritional and health counseling, and referrals to health care and social service providers. WIC's popularity stems, according to Douglas J. Besharov and Peter Germanis, from the widespread belief that research studies have proved that WIC works, by improving the diets and health of recipients. In this volume, Besharov and Germanis analyze those studies and show that the extensive benefits cited by some analysts and policymakers have been exaggerated and relate primarily to research conducted on WIC's prenatal program, which involves only 11 percent of program participants. Even there, they assert that the evidence suggests that WIC's benefits are modest at best. Besharov and Germanis do not argue that WIC's weaknesses justify abandoning or even cutting the program. Instead, they recommend a series of programmatic reforms and a research agenda designed to assess the efficacy of these reforms. As they write in the conclusion: Some observers have argued that the weaknesses in WIC research (and presumably WIC as well) should not be discussed, lest public and political support for the program be undermined. But unless WIC is assessed honestly, the program can never be effectively improved. Would that not hurt poor children even more?