How WIC Defines Nutritional Risk

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), provides food assistance for women and children who are at nutritional risk. Being at nutritional risk is one of the key qualifiers of the WIC nutrition program. The program is exclusive to pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as to children younger than five years of age who meet this criteria. Of course, in addition to being at risk of malnutrition, participants must also have incomes that fall under a certain cutoff. After being accepted into the program, recipients are given WIC nutrition vouchers to buy nutritious foods to address their health risks.

To be considered nutritionally at risk, those undergoing the WIC application process must undergo in a health screening. These screenings are conducted by health care professionals, and they test participants for certain risk factors. These risk factors have been linked to higher mortality rates and poorer life outcomes long into the future. Addressing the needs women and children who are at a nutritional risk can help improve their lives simply by improving their eating and lifestyle habits.

Nutritional Risk

Someone who is at a nutritional risk lacks the proper nutrients, or amount of nutrients, to maintain an optimal level of health or functioning. Women and children can lack proper nutrition for many reasons, some of which are highlighted in the following sections. Inadequate nutrition fits under WIC qualifications, and applicants are often at risk for many health complications that result from lack of proper nutrition.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women who are at a nutritional risk may impact their infants’ development and decrease the child’s chances of a healthy life. Children with poor nutrition may not function well mentally or physically and can develop health problems as adults.

Nutritional risk may first be identified by a primary care doctor, gynecologist or other health care professional. They can identify medical- or dietary-based conditions that might pose a threat to health or are a result of poor nutritional habits. These conditions can include frequent pregnancy complications, anemia, being underweight or overweight, and having nutritional deficiencies.

To find out more about nutritional risk and the importance of nutrition, download our informative WIC program guide.

WIC Nutritional Risk Screening

Identifying and verifying a woman or child as at risk involves conducting a nutritional risk screening. These screenings are conducted by Competent Professional Authorities (CPAs). Physicians, nurses and other health care professionals at WIC clinics are qualified to complete health screenings for applicants. Nutritional risk screenings are free for women and children at these clinics.

Health screening tests measure applicants’ bodies and blood levels, while testing for medical conditions and considering their dietary habits and practices. These tests identify which, or how many, risk indicators the mother or child qualify under. Health screenings, however, are not diagnoses. They merely deem an applicant eligible or ineligible for the WIC nutrition program.

WIC Nutrition Risk Indicators

WIC nutrition risk indicators are health categories that states must follow when examining applicants’ health status. These risk indicators attempt to find the reasons for an applicant’s poor health status, and determine if the applicant’s health is in fact related to lack of proper nutrition. Falling under at least one of the below categories helps WIC and health care professionals address the dietary and nutritional needs of mothers and their children.

Anthropometric Risk

Abnormal body measurements during growth and development periods are part of anthropometric nutritional risk. Usually, abnormally high or low body measurements fall under WIC qualifications. For mothers, children and infants to be considered healthy, they must fall into a specific weight category based on their height and age. Those with a nutritional risk, however, typically fall outside of healthy boundaries: They tend to be either underweight or overweight for their age. Women and children who are underweight can signal to health care provides that they are not obtaining an adequate amount of nutrients or do not have enough food. Overweight individuals may have poor eating habits or may be unable to afford healthier food options, which can be corrected with the proper diet and nutrients. Thus, these individuals are eligible for the WIC nutrition program.

Infants, pregnant women and children who do not grow or develop at an appropriate or healthy pace are also considered an anthropometric risk. To learn more about what measurements might put you or a child at an anthropometric nutritional risk, review our in-depth guide.

Hematological Risk

A hematological risk is any health issue associated with blood. In the WIC nutrition program, qualified applicants are those who have low hemoglobin or high lead levels. However, those with abnormal glucose levels, such as in those with diabetes, will be considered as well. Abnormal levels of hemoglobin may indicate anemia. For those at nutritional risk, anemia can indicate low iron levels, which can be remedied with an increased intake of iron.

An abnormally high amount of lead in blood, especially in children, suggests a condition called pica. With pica, children eat non-food items such as ash, dust and soil. Blood tests can also identify nutrient deficiencies that can help determine diet changes that a mother can make for herself or her child.

Dietary Risk

Dietary risks involve improper nutrition practices and behaviors. Many habits and actions encompass dietary nutritional risk. For instance, consuming too much fat, sugar or sodium, and serving infants formulas and foods that put them at risk are examples of dietary risks. Poor dietary practices put infants and children at risk of developing improperly and suffering from health issues such as heart disease. Women and children who are accepted into the WIC nutrition program under dietary risk can be taught about proper eating habits and practices. The program also allows them to be able to buy more nutritious food for themselves and their children.

Medical Risk

A medical risk includes any underlying illness or genetic condition of a WIC applicant that impacts his or her to obtain necessary nutrients. Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease or eating disorders can affect nutrient intake and diet. Mothers with Crohn’s disease, for example, experience intestinal discomfort that discourages eating of certain foods and thus puts them at a nutritional risk. These women can gain valuable knowledge and resources from WIC assistance.