Food insecurity is particularly devastating for children with a lasting impact on their long-term development and state of well-being. That is why First Focus strongly supports a new policy statement by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that would build in another layer of support to ensure children’s hunger is addressed. This time, by physicians.

AAP’s new policy statement Promoting Food Security for All Children was recently published in Pediatrics. “The AAP is urging U.S. pediatricians to screen families for food insecurity during children’s checkups, help families with community food resources and talk to patients about factors that increase obesity among those who are food insecure.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security as “all people in a household having enough food for an active, healthy life at all times.” Unfortunately, that is not the case for 16 million children. Food insecurity is associated with poverty or economic hardship, in the case of parent losing a job. AAP’s release further stresses the impact of food insecurity:

  • 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.

With these struggles in mind, it is important that pediatricians are now part of a strategy to address child hunger. Under the new guidelines, when children go to the doctor for a checkup, or even a well-child visit, pediatricians will start asking questions like this: Within the past 12 months, the food we bought didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more. Yes or No? The answer gives pediatricians the opportunity to provide additional support to the child and their family, like providing information on safety net nutrition programs and locations of food banks.

The statement further calls on pediatricians to support access to adequate healthy food for an active and healthy life for all children and their families. After all, the signs of malnutrition are not always apparent in children. Some of the most obese children (and adults) in the country have deficiencies in nutrition. According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, childhood obesity is a national epidemic, which costs $190.2 billion to treat, putting these kids at risk for serious health problems now and later in life.

The AAP policy statement is a positive contribution to keeping childhood hunger and nutrition a priority on our nation’s agenda. Further, it is critical that Congress take action to help mitigate food insecurity among children and families. With 53 million children getting much of their daily nutrition (half of their daily calories, for many kids) at school, our partners at First Focus Campaign for Children call on Congress to renew the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) legislation to improve children’s access to healthy meals at school.

The legislation, also known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, will also address programs outside of school, including (WIC, an evidence based intervention program that benefits 8.3 million people – pregnant women, infants and children until the age of 5. It will also build upon programs in order to improve access for children in the following areas- childcare, breakfast, afterschool, and the expansion of Summer Nutrition Programs that only reach one in six of the children who rely on the National School Lunch Program. Child nutrition programs continue to be a key support in reducing hunger and improving the health and well-being of millions of children in America.

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