Over recent decades there has been an increasing amount of devotion to practicing preventative care as evidence continues to show better long-term outcomes for patients, which ultimately is cost effective and beneficial for all.
Numerous studies have shown links between issues encountered in childhood that can increase the chance for chronic diseases as an adult (such as diabetes or heart disease), result in learning problems, increase the likelihood of mood disorders (such as anxiety or depression), and place individuals at risk for many other lifelong problems.
Although battling to help ensure a healthy childhood for all children will require continued effort on many fronts, one area that everyone including health care providers and community members can help out is ensuring food security for our nation’s children.
Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain access to enough food, and it affects around one in six children in the United States. While it is difficult to know how many additional families and children will at least temporarily face food insecurity due to the economic impact of COVID-19, many of our nation’s children face this challenge long enough to have detrimental effects on their health.
Children who are facing food insecurity are more likely to have hospitalizations, have reduced academic achievement and experience depression or thoughts of suicide. Early childhood malnutrition has also been linked to diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease. For many families facing food insecurity, there are programs in place which can aid in attaining needed nutrition.
As health care providers it is important to screen for food insecurity, which can be done quickly with a two-question questionnaire named the Hunger Vital Sign. For families that screen positive for food insecurity, they can be connected to resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Food Program, school meal programs, summer and after-school meal programs, and multiple other federal and local food services.
However, screening alone will not detect every child or family in need. With so many households facing difficult financial questions due to rapid changes in income over the past several months, now more than ever people need to know about options to help keep food on the table.
This is why it is important that if you or someone you know is having issues with food insecurity, please ask your health care provider or local health department about resources available in your area.
Jordan Burke, MD, is a pediatric resident at the University of Florida.