WIC Evaluations Provide Some Favorable but No Conclusive Evidence on the Effects Expected for the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children

PEMD-84-4: Published: Jan 30, 1984. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed evaluations of the effectiveness of the Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The review focused on the effects of the program on miscarriages, still-births, neonatal deaths, maternal nutrition, and high-risk mothers, as well as claims that the WIC program is directly related to positive outcomes in these areas. GAO also reviewed the effect of the WIC program on birthweights and claims that the program reduces the chances for anemia and mental retardation in infants and children.

GAO found that there is insufficient information to make any general or conclusive judgments as to whether the WIC program is effective or not. However, there are indications that the program has had positive effects in some areas. Six evaluations gave some support for claims that the program increases infant birthweights. However, GAO did not find conclusive evidence that the WIC program: (1) lessened the number of fetal and neonatal deaths; (2) was associated with better maternal nutrition; (3) prevented anemia in infants and children; (4) had an effect on mental retardation; or (5) had a positive effect on the birthweights of the infants of mothers who were teenagers or blacks or had several health- and nutrition-related risks. GAO found almost no information about the separate effects of WIC services for food supplements, nutrition counseling, and adjunct health care. Many of the documents which GAO reviewed did not adequately describe the design, execution, or analyses that were used in the evaluation effort; therefore, it was difficult to determine the technical adequacy of the findings. However, progress has been seen in the improvement of designs and methodologies of recent evaluations.

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