In spite of the achievements in aspects like health and technologies, the World is still facing a number of health challenges. The health challenges are mainly seen in the increasing poor population of the World, who some times do not have the adequate access to the basic health care systems as well as the education to maintain health. Other than these, the degradation of environment, the recession and different other crises have made it a complex situation altogether. However, the WIC is working in a specific area to solve some of its problems. According to Crane (1998) WIC is also known as the “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children” (p.184) and according to Jacknowitz and Tiehen (2009) it is an assistance program of the “Food and Nutrition Service of USA Department of Agriculture” (p.157). It is administered by 90 WIC based state agencies, which is divided in about 47,000 authorized retailers. In total, the WIC program operates through 1900 local agencies spread all over America, which includes around 10,000 clinic sites in all the 50 health departments. It includes 34 Indian Tribal Organizations along with the District of Columbia, and five territories which includes Northern Mariana, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. According to FNS/USDA-Food & Nutrition Services (2012a)
WIC saves lives and improves the health of nutritionally at-risk women, infants and children. The results of studies conducted by FNS and other non-government entities prove that WIC is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective nutrition intervention programs. Since its beginning in 1974, the WIC Program has earned the reputation of being one of the most successful Federally-funded nutrition programs in the United States. Collective findings of studies, reviews and reports demonstrate that the WIC Program is cost effective in protecting or improving the health/nutritional status of low-income women, infants and children (p.1).
One can obtain WIC services in places like different country health departments, mobile clinics and vans, schools, community centers, different public hosing sites, Indian Health Service Facilities, migrant health centers and all the hospitals in the country. It is not an entitlement program and hence the Congress does not really set aside the funds that go to allow the entire eligible candidate to participate in the program. On the other hand it is a program that runs completely on Federal grants. But there are some concerns over the effectiveness of the program in some areas.
There are a number of internal programs that run inside the project. Some researches clearly show that the spending structure of WIC has to be adjusted immediately so that it can give its services to the maximum amount of people. To make this possible, there are talks about transferring some of the spending to the other parts that are directly included in the WIC program. According to FNS/USDA-Food & Nutrition Services (2012b) “WIC Regulations are published by the Federal Register in the Code of Federal Regulations, 7 C.F.R. Part 246. The CFR is updated with files with an effective date as of January 1 each year. The CFR, in print or on-line, represents updates as of January and will not include changes which have been subsequently published” (p.1).
The basic objective of the program is to provide quality healthcare to the low income families which have pregnant women (through pregnancy and up to 6 weeks after birth or after pregnancy ends) or breast feeding women(up to the first birthday of the infant), and children less than five years of age. If a person participates in programs like Medicaid, the Food Stamp Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families he or she is automatically eligible for the program. As per the recent reports around 53% of total Americans infants are registered under the program. According to Swann (2010) any person who will register in the WIC program will have several benefits like:
1. He or she will be eligible to get supplement and nutritious foods.
2. Proper nutrition education and counseling will be provided in the WIC Clinics.
3. Different types of screening and referral services to other health care departments, as well as social services.
There have been a number of benefits that have been directly associated with the program. WIC directly played a role in improved birth outcomes as well as saving in total health care costs for both individual and the Government. Longer pregnancy period, fewer premature deliveries and deaths of infants are some of the benefits associated with it. It has thoroughly improved the pre-natal care. The pregnant women are exposed to higher intake of iron, Vitamin C and B6, thiamin and all other important food supplements that are really important in pregnancy period. There are positive effects on the intake of ten different nutrients without creating any adverse effect on fat and cholesterol. Hence we can say that it is effective that cash benefits to the needy families as there is no certainty that the given cash will be spend on the well being of the pregnant woman or the infant. Gundersen (2005) noted that in 1978, the rate of iron deficiency anemia in America was 7.8%. But after the successful implementation of the WIC, it has been lowered to 2.9% in the year 1985. WIC has been effective in improving the infant feeding practices. Here we can present some statistics. Between the years 1996 to 2001, the total percentage of mothers participating in the WIC program has increased from 46.6% to 58.2%, which is almost 25% of the earlier rate. Also the total percentages of the WIC included infants who have to be breast feed or less than six months of age, has increase from 12.9% to 20.8%, which is a rise of around 61%.
The WIC have surely increased the rate of immunization among the American children from birth to 2 years of age. Many low income families participate in the program who does not really think about the immunization aspects of their children, and with the help of the WIC these kids are getting all the immunization benefits. The program has become one of the regular sources of medical care and also has contributed to improved cognitive development of the participants.
In short, we can say that WIC has successfully reduced fetal deaths and infant mortality, along with low birth weight; it has also increased the general duration of pregnancy. All the at-risk infants and children have been able to have proper nutrition, which will stop the diseases like iron deficiency and anemia. Both the pregnant women and postpartum women will improve their dietary intakes. Even it readies the children to go to school as it aims to develop the children intellectually.
To be included in the Federal Program, there are some criteria, like the family income must be the same or less than the current federal poverty level. The level, according to Swann (2010), is fixed at a $45000 yearly income for a family of four people. The family as well as the applicant has to be the resident of the country in which they have filed for assistance and has to undergo a nutritional risk assessment by a qualified and certified health professional. After that if the person is qualified to undergo the program, there will be four areas in which they will have support. There are certain responsibilities of a WIC participant; he or she will have to be responsible for the WIC check or voucher. It is issued for only once and if it is lost the government will replace the card for a second time and automatically the person will be off from the WIC benefits. The check or voucher can only be used to buy the specific things mentioned by the guidelines and it must not exceed a certain sales amount. All the conditions are issued to make the person more responsible while directly handling the Government welfare fund.
For supplement foods, the Federal Government will issue food checks or an EBT card with which the participants will be able to buy nutritious foods from the registered stores. The participants will have free health and nutrition education classes that will help the participants to understand what exactly their needs are. To get the WIC assistance, Gundersen (2005) noted, a participant has to qualify with the two set standards, which are the nutritional risk and income disparity. But we have to remember that most of the problems have been started from these two aspects. It has made the social scientists questions about the proper benefits of the program and they have also asked that if the needy are getting the assistance or not. For example, Peter Germanis have said that in the case of evaluations, it has been recorded that many people fell short of the two aspects but still they will be benefited from the project. Actually, the nutritional risk aspect is too broad of a concept. As per the definition of WIC, the phrase ‘nutritional risk’ is associated with a number of medical conditions namely, anemia, low weight or overweight in different cases. For a pregnant woman or a woman who has just delivered a child, it is directly associated with her medical history, age and pre or post pregnancy status etc. inadequate and improper diet also plays a very important part in the case.
In many cases it has been noticed that a WIC participant does not clearly exhibit these symptoms though they fulfill the nutritional risk standard. As per many nutritionists, many American states have used a generous cut off point in the nutritional risk aspect and WIC participation in the states become based on the loosely defined risk criteria assessed by the states. Hence a number of people, who do not really have to enter in the program get the benefits and some one who really needs the assistance fails in the aspect. Basically all the gaps are based on the faults to measure the nutritional risks.
Gundersen (2005) noted, that the participants will have direct access to healthcare as well as other social services. In the way they will receive able guidance and assistance in aspects like pre-natal programs, different types of immunizations that are important for an infant or any child. Another very important part is that it goes to offer different drug and alcohol related counseling and treatment programs. The mothers get breastfeeding support from WIC as per the rules.
According to Swann (2010), one of the most important eligibility standards of WIC program is the income level of the person who is going to participate in the program. In paper, we see that to qualify in the WIC program, a family has to have to have an income that will be less that 185% of the Federal poverty level. But there are many cases where the participants with income above the level are included in the program. As per a report published by the USDA, 5.7% of the total members of WIC program do not qualify the income level set by the authorities.
For any community, women and children health is a very important question, and if we look at any community under WIC, we will see that it is probably the most important factor. Most of the people in the community belong to the lowest part of the economical chain and they are drowned by several social prejudices. The new process aims to destroy the barrier by different ways, like creating social awareness, teaching people about the infections and other things. This is the most important factor in the case. There are several criticisms associated with the WIC program, but one has to agree that it is probably the most effective medical program launched by the Federal Government and it probably serves to the most number of in need Americans. The program is being continued for a long time and it has really affected the lives of thousands of American citizens. Yes, we do accept that there are some discrepancies, but in the case we have to look at the magnitude of the program and the possible benefits of it. The future of the WIC program is quite bright, but the rules and the assessment processes need some modifications. Only than we can say that it is a full proof social experiment for the complete development of the low income families. In America, different types of medical interventions have really helped the development of common public health and still it happens. The WIC has a very tough task in their hands and with the co-ordination of all the different aspects they can surely develop the process.