More than 15 million children live in homes that struggle with hunger. With this comes lifelong health struggles, chronic diseases and increased health care costs that many times could have been prevented with adequate nutrition.
Recognizing this, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced at their conference last week a new and significant food insecurity policy statement, "Promoting Food Security for All Children."
In short, the statement calls on pediatricians to play an active and central role in identifying food insecure kids and ensuring that they and their families are connected to critical community resources (think SNAP, WIC, food banks and other assistance programs). The statement also calls on pediatricians to advocate for federal and local policies that support healthy food access for all children and their families.
This is important for so many reasons. Perhaps most importantly, though, it acknowledges the critical role health care providers should play in short- and long-term nutritional screening, assessments and needs, and simultaneously and inextricably links food and medicine. For far too long, the health care community and the food/nutrition community have been disconnected; even today, doctors fall far short of the nutrition training needed to adequately understand and dispense dietary advice. So even just the act of screening children for food insecurity and for those who are food insecure, connecting them to services, will be invaluable.
The AAP press release breaks down why we should care:
- Children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the lowest levels, get sick more often, recover more slowly from illness, have poorer overall health and are hospitalized more frequently;
- Children and adolescents affected by food insecurity are more likely to be iron deficient, and preadolescent boys dealing with hunger issues have lower bone density. Early childhood malnutrition also is tied to conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.
- Lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child's ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.
As a membership organization of 64,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric surgical specialists, the AAP carries some significant heft when it comes to pediatric recommendations. Let's hope these docs institute this statement and become true advocates for so many kids that deserve far better.