Making the Food Security and Nutrition of Women, Infants, and Children a Priority

October 28, 2014
Mother Holds Her Child in Front of a Stall Full of Fruits and Vegetables

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).  Under the leadership of the United States Department of Agriculture, WIC has strengthened families and protected vulnerable populations in the United States for 40 years.

In three weeks, the Secretary of State's Office of Global Food Security will be a member of the U.S. delegation to the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2).  Twenty-two years after the first conference, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), will co-convene ICN2 to focus the world’s attention on nutrition, health, and agriculture to ensure that food security and nutrition remain a priority.

The U.S. experience with WIC is a success story that offers useful lessons for others in the international community grappling with the issues of nutrition security.  Through forty years of experience, WIC successfully combines nutrition education for parents, breastfeeding support for new mothers, and health care referrals for families with a program that provides access to healthy foods.

WIC is a global model for building social safety nets.  The program has consistently improved nutrition outcomes while helping women and children to thrive in support of long-term economic growth.  Today, nearly half of all infants and nearly one quarter of all children age 1-4 participate in WIC programs.  The U.S. success with WIC shows that childhood nutrition sets a foundation for life, and that well-nourished children grow to become healthy, active and vibrant participants in the economy as adults.

That’s why former Secretary Clinton led the creation of the 1,000 Days Partnership.  The ‘1,000 day’ window from pregnancy to two years of age is a critical time for long-term cognitive and physical development.  With the right nutrition during this critical phase, not only will you ensure the healthy future of the next generation, you will also boost a country’s ability to grow and prosper.  Around the globe, the U.S. government is a strong supporter of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement -- a country-led movement to scale up efforts to address malnutrition.  Improving nutrition during the ‘1,000 day’ window is a critical ingredient to ending hunger and raising countries out of poverty.

And looking ahead to 2015, the State Department remains committed to positively impacting food security and nutrition both through the post-2015 sustainable development goals process and at next year’s Milan Expo, which will focus on “feeding the planet, energy for life”.  Malnutrition is a serious and complex problem that hinders human and economic development.  The U.S. experience with WIC shows us that a robust and inclusive solution to improved nutrition will bring us closer to a world of healthy, well-nourished, and food-secure populations.

About the Authors: Elizabeth Buckingham, Julia Duncan, and Daniel Oerther serve in the Secretary's Office of Global Food Security.

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