Pediatricians tackle a growing health challenge for children: hunger

Pediatricians increasingly screen for hunger in children

A growing number of pediatricians are asking parents about food insecurity and trying to connect them with resources to help.

ATLANTIA – Just over 375,000 children in Georgia are struggling with hunger, according to the food-banking organization Feeding America.

It is a problem exacerbated by the pandemic and the large increase in food prices.

dr. Morehouse Healthcare pediatrician Nicola Chin says doctors should have hunger on their radar screen because food insecurity is a daily reality for many kids in Metro Atlanta.

Hunger in children is associated with poorer health, anxiety, developmental risks and poor school performance, she says.

“We know that about 12% of households experience food insecurity,” says Dr. chin. “For Georgia, it’s maybe one in four households now, especially with the pandemic.”

Hunger is a problem, Chin says, pediatricians should ask families about it during routine pit visits.

“Because if you don’t ask, maybe they won’t tell,” she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Food Resource & Action Center have released an updated version of “Screen and Intervene,” a toolkit for pediatricians to address hunger, screen for food insecurity, and connect families to the resources they need.

Part of the toolkit is a two-part questionnaire, which asks families whether in the past 12 months they have been concerned about running out of food or running out before they could get money to buy more.

Both, Chin says, are signs of food insecurity, which can lead to food shortages or an unreliable food supply.

“There shouldn’t be a child or family that is so insecure about food because there are resources,” Chin says.

The toolkit list includes a list of federal nutritional programs and food resources, from SNAP to WIC, to programs that offer free breakfast, lunch, after-school meals, and summer meals for children.

dr. Chin says it will take a team effort to connect families living with hunger with programs that can help them.

“Including the pediatricians, who should be able to say, ‘Here’s WIC, here’s SNAP, and if you qualify, why don’t you get it? Do you know how you qualify?'” she says. “(We are) I’m just explaining so many different ways to get the resources to our families.”


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