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Publication Date

April 1, 2009



WIC and the Battle Against Childhood Overweight

By Ver Ploeg M


One of the most worrisome aspects of the growing tide of obesity in the United States is the high rate of overweight among children. Over one in five young children, ages 2 to 5, are at risk of being overweight—meaning their Body-Mass-Index-for-age is at or above the 85th percentile. These children face both current and long-term health problems, and their numbers have grown in the past two decades (Must and Strauss, 1999). The number of young children whose families participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) also grew in that time period, more than doubling from 1.7 million in 1988 to 4.0 million in 2007 (USDA- ERS, 2008).

Are these increases connected? Does WIC participation contribute to the problem of overweight among U.S. children? Although causes of the increase in childhood overweight and obesity are complex, the answer to both questions appears to be “No.” Results from data covering almost 20 years show no association between WIC participation and Body Mass Index (BMI) or the probability of being at risk of overweight (see box, “Calculating Body Mass Index,” p. 4). However, low-income status, especially for Mexican-American children, does raise the probability of a child’s being at risk for overweight.

This brief examines trends in the relationship between WIC participation and weight status by updating the results of Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs and Obesity: 1976-2002 (ERR-48, Ver Ploeg et al., 2007). That analysis has been updated to include more recently released data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 1988-1994 and 1999-2006).

This research was funded by the USDA Economic Research Service.

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Date Added
January 18, 2018

Ver Ploeg M (2009) WIC and the Battle Against Childhood Overweight, EB-13. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Available online: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/42835/8792_eb13.pdf?v=41055