Childhood Obesity and WIC


The U.S. Department of Agriculture under Ag Sec Sonny Perdue is in charge of domestic nutrition programs that are crucial to children’s health and their potential to avoid obesity. One of the most well-known subdivisions is Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which assists pregnant women. This is meaningful, because it is widely accepted that obesity can start in the womb, so prevention had better start there too. Via WIC, women in adverse economic circumstances are given food outright from government surplus, or a way to obtain food at little or no cost.

WIC feeds babies too, with awareness that overweight in early infancy is a big predictor of obesity later on. In other words, it is a lot easier to get than to get rid of. Obese people could end up with cardiovascular disease, respiratory distress, a messed-up relationship with glucose, and a host of other problems. The expense to society is enormous, not to mention the individual cost in terms of life quality.

If the financial and residence requirements are met, children in their first four years can remain on the program. One of the least-known facts about WIC, especially among its critics, is that only about half of the eligible kids are even enrolled.

Plenty of advice for WIC participants

The moms are provided with mountains of information on what a baby should or should not eat, as well as other helpful facts. An important principle is that a new mother needs adequate feeding, too, because she is producing milk, and the program encourages breastfeeding.

To be a caring, competent, nurturing parent, and also just in general, she needs her good health. With a new baby, balance is already threatened by sleep deprivation and other kinds of stress, possibly including recovery from surgery. But in a civilized country, malnutrition need not be a factor.

A women needs to be in the best maternal condition before she even conceives. The science of epigenetics suggests that even her mother needed to have been in favorable circumstances for producing and raising a child, or else trouble could ensue. In other words, when it comes to obesity prevention, there is no such thing as starting too soon. Which leads back to the main point: More than any other single government program, WIC is in a position to impact the obesity epidemic.

Recent decrease in childhood obesity

A report published last month examined the records of children aged 2 to 4, from 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), so everybody was represented. The number of subjects was very large — 22.6 million.

From 2000 to 2004, severe obesity increased. Then from 2004 until 2010, it decreased slightly. Over the next four years, 2010-2014, severe obesity continued to decrease in all age, sex, and racial/ethnic subgroups.

The authors describe the complex reasons for the downward trend as encompassing “differences in genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.” They also give a shoutout to the government:

A number of federal programs promoted healthful food choices and increased support for families and communities. For example, the US Department of Agriculture promotes healthy eating and nutrition education through many of its child nutrition programs, including the Federal WIC Program.

The authors of the study also show appreciation to the Centers for Disease Control for facilitating cooperation between states and hospitals:

There have been improved food and beverage and physical activity environments in hospitals and enhanced maternity care policies and practices supportive of breastfeeding in birth facilities…. The CDC provided resources and support for Early Care and Education providers to embed Caring for Our Children Standards for obesity prevention into state Early Care and Education systems…

As always, there is a call for further research, which could “determine whether the recent reversal in the prevalence of severe obesity may be attributable to obesity prevention initiatives for all children or to initiatives specifically targeting children enrolled in WIC.” Good luck answering such a wide-ranging question!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children From 2000 to 2014,”, March 2018
Photo credit: The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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