Idaho WIC marks 50 years of healthy babies and moms

March 29, 2024
Leah Sallas, Division of Public Health

The Department of Health & Welfare is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Since 1974, Idaho WIC has educated pregnant women and new mothers, empowering them to make healthy choices for supporting themselves and their families. 

Here in Idaho, local WIC clinics educate families about resources available to them — such as best healthcare, breastfeeding, and nutrition practices — as well as funding the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, other healthy foods, and infant formula. 

From Pineville, Kentucky, to Yellow Pine, Idaho

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rates of iron-deficiency anemia were unusually high in rural communities like Pineville, Ky. — a town similar to many small towns in rural Idaho. Community healthcare providers noticed a pattern: local infants and children had unusually high rates of iron-deficiency anemia stemming from malnutrition and a lack of education about healthy food, and breastfeeding.

In 1972, Dr. David Paige piloted a groundbreaking preventative health program in Baltimore, Md., aiming to reduce health issues in women, infants, and children. Two years later, the first WIC clinic opened to the public in Pineville, Ky. WIC clinics were available in 45 states in its first year of existence, and it has since extended to cover women, infants, and children in all 50 states. 

As the 50th anniversary celebration illustrates, it takes teamwork from all members of a community — from nurses and doctors to neighbors, legislators, and families — for meaningful change to take place. After two years of hard work and advocacy, the WIC program was successfully funded and implemented nationwide in 1974. This success, born in a small mountain town, demonstrates how grassroots resilience and compassion, along with political will on the state and national level, can change lives. 

Who participates in WIC in Idaho?

  • 30,607 WIC participants:
    • 2,212 pregnant women
    • 3,170 breastfeeding women
    • 1,332 postpartum women
    • 6,413 infants
    • 17,480 children

WIC helps keep moms and babies healthy

WIC’s educational benefits assist mothers and children by meeting them where they are, from pregnancy through infancy and early childhood. Proper nutrition and breastfeeding practices ensure families are provided with the daily nutrition they need to thrive. 

WIC matters during pregnancy because WIC clinics educate women about the importance of nutritious foods during pregnancy. The correct balance of nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin D is essential to a healthy pregnancy. Connecting with healthcare providers allows pregnant women to feel supported by their community before and after childbirth. 

WIC matters during infancy because WIC can support moms in meeting their breastfeeding goals through access to professional breastfeeding resources and peer-to-peer support. WIC can provide infant formula for infants who are partially breastfed or fully formula fed including medical formulas for high-risk infants. Because of WIC, breastfeeding in Idaho increased by 4% between 2010 and 2020. Infancy is a critical time for brain development, and nursing mothers need access to healthy food for that nutrition to be passed down to their child during breastfeeding. Trained professionals can help advise women and point them to resources like the Idaho Breastfeeding Coalition, connecting mothers to peer counseling or free weekly support groups. 

WIC matters during early childhood because infancy to the fifth year of life is an essential time for families to make nutritious food choices, building eating habits that can last a lifetime. When parents provide the correct balance of calcium, protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals to form the basis of a healthy diet, children thrive. Making nutritional choices like eating a variety of food, choosing healthier options, and limiting the amount of sugar consumed each day can prevent malnutrition, obesity, and iron-deficiency anemia.

WIC is cost-effective and benefits the local economy

Every dollar spent on prenatal service through WIC saves an average of $2.48 in healthcare costs. Currently, 44% of all eligible families in Idaho use WIC. WIC supports not only working families but the local economy by working with 200 Idaho grocery stores in urban and rural communities.  In fiscal year 2023 alone, WIC provided $17.4 million that was spent at Idaho grocery stores.

For more information about WIC eligibility & how to apply for benefits—or to apply to be a WIC-certified vendor:

Leah Sallas is the Idaho WIC program director. She has worked for the department since 2015.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at 

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