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AAP urges pediatricians to screen children for food insecurity


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending pediatricians to screen every child for food insecurity. Last month, data released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that the situation has improved slightly over the last eight years, and was at its highest point in 2007. According to the AAP, there are about 16 million children who live in homes that don’t have enough food.children-food-insecurity

The new policy statement identified short and long-term problems related to childhood hunger. AAP is urging pediatricians to get familiar with families, refer them to community resources, and advocate for federal and local policies which support access to nutritious, adequate food. Food insecurity can lead to suicidal thoughts in teenagers, behavior problems in children and lower cognitive indicators in kids.

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“Hunger’s health effects are long-lasting and pervasive which is the reason the new policy urges pediatricians to take action inside and outside the clinic,” said Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, MD, one of the lead authors of the policy.

Stephen Cook, MD, MPH, of the Center for Community Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY called it a “welcome policy.” Cook said the new policy is long overdue as food insecurity is linked to poor childhood development and higher healthcare costs. Though 60 percent of food-insecure families have incomes below the income eligibility cutoff for several child nutrition programs, 30 percent of food-insecure households have an income above this level, indicating that food security is not always linked to poverty.

Melissa Boteach, the vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress said that is easier to reach families at schools or at the doctor’s office to talk about nutrition. Malnutrition in early childhood could lead to diabetes or cardiovascular diseases later on in life. Lack of nutritious food can impair the concentration of the child, and is related to behavioral and emotional problems till adolescence.

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