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WIC Program Boon to Mothers,Children, U.S.D.A. Study Finds

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Washington--Participation in the federal government's special nutrition program for low-income women and their children results in lower medical costs for both mother and child and improved birthweights, a new study has found.

The study was carried out at the request of the Congress by the Department of Agriculture, which administers the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or wic.

About 4.5 million women and children take part in wic, which is not an entitlement program. Nearly 3 million others meet the program's eligibility requirements, but receive no benefits.

By participating in the wic program, the study found, poor, pregnant women in five states generated significantly lower Medicaid costs for themselves and their newborns during the first two months after birth than did Medicaid-eligible women who did not receive wic benefits.

The savings ranged from $277 in Minnesota to $598 in North Carolina. Other states included in the study were Florida, South Carolina, and Texas.

For every dollar spent on wic, the study found, "the associated savings in Medicaid costs during the first 60 days after birth ranged from $1.77 to $3.13 for newborns and mothers and from $2.84 to $3.90 for newborns only."

In all of the states, Medicaid-eligible wic participants also had, on average, babies with higher birthweights than did Medicaid recipients who did not receive the nutritional supplements. The gains ranged from 51 grams in Minnesota to 117 grams in North Carolina.

"The exciting thing about the results of this study is that it shows that Medicaid-eligible pregnant women who participate in the wic program have healthier babies who require less Medicaid assistance after birth than those low-income pregnant women who don't participate," said Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter.

The department's hailing of the study contrasts with its handling of a 1986 study on the effectiveness of wic. A General Accounting Office report released this year found that the department had altered the results of the 1986 study to downplay its findings.--ef

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