The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement urging pediatricians to screen for food insecurity and coordinate assistance for hungry and malnourished children.
Food insecurity is a big deal. In fact, in 2013, around 20 percent of all children in the United States lived in a household that struggled to provide a nutritious diet. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics is stepping in to do something about it.
According to a report from the New York Times, pediatricians across the country have been urged to screen children for signs of malnutrition, and refer them to an agency that could provide assistance.
Roughly sixteen million American children don’t have access to a consistent supply of food, according to a report from the Department of Agriculture. These children face a higher risk of developing illnesses, have poor overall health and visit the hospital more often than their peers who have a stable source of nutrition.
Food insecurity has also been connected to a long list of behavioral and emotional issues, ranging from preschool to the teenage yeas.
According to Mariana Chilton, the director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University, the new policy should have been in place years ago. She argued that food insecurity drives up health care costs, result sin more hospitalizations, and creates a damper on the development and health of children around the country.
There has been shockingly little research on childhood hunger, says Dr. Chilton, who works with Children’s HealthWatch, a network that tracks the impact of public assistance programs on the health of children. Chilton says it is extremely difficult to get the medical community to pay attention to the lack of adequate nutrition faced by so many children, especially when it has such a large impact on their overall health and well being.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also encourages doctors to become familiar with local food banks and federal nutrition assistance programs so they can give their patients access to some of the more accessible sources of nutrition.
According to Melissa Boteach, the vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, reaching families to talk about issues like nutrition is easiest at schools or the doctor’s office. She believes that having pediatricians connect patients with opportunities to eat better will have a huge impact.