HEADLINES Published October27, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Pediatricians Urged to Start Asking About Hunger and Food Insecurity

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Pediatricians are encouraged to ask about whether there is enough food in the home.
(Photo : Oli Scarff, Getty Images )

The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that pediatricians screen all children for food insecurity. The organization issued a policy statement about the impact of food shortages and food insecurity on children's health.

Food insecurity is defined as being without reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 15 million American children live in homes where there is consistently not enough food. Those children get sick more often, have poorer overall health, and are hospitalized more frequently than other children who have enough food. Food insecurity has also been linked to behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence and with doing worse in school due to impaired concentration, according to the AAP statement.

"The health effects of hunger on children are pervasive and long-lasting, which is why our new policy urges pediatricians to take action in and outside of the clinic to conquer food insecurity and promote child health," said Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, MD, FAAP, a lead author of the policy statement and director of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

Pediatricians can identify issues with hunger and food insecurity by using a screening tool that is available online at Childrenshealthwatch.org.  They should familiarize themselves with resources in their communities so that they can refer parents to appropriate agencies so children do not go hungry, the AAP added. Federal nutrition programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the program once known as food stamps), and school lunch and breakfast programs, according to the AAP.  Nearly half of all SNAP recipients are children.

The statement notes that hunger and food insecurity can occur in any community, in suburban and rural areas and not just in urban low-income areas. 

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