In light of the the rising number of children in the US found to be "food-insecure", the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending pediatricians to assess food insecurities and to refer them accordingly to reduce child hunger in the country.
At least 7.9 million children in the US are refered as food insecure, or not having enough to eat at home. This is an urgent problem because children need the nutrients from an adequate intake of healthy food to grow. Inadequate food intake will also greatly impair children in performing well in school as well as impede mental and emotional development until adolescent years.
Due to impaired growth and development and the lack of nutritious food, these children are more prone to illness and recover from them more slowly. They are also more at risk for developing chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases later in life.
But when it comes to assessing for sufficient food intake, both children and parents tend to shy away from the matter and end up answering dishonestly. The fact that signs of malnutrition is not always immediately apparent also makes diagnosis more difficult.
"They're embarrassed, or they don't think the doctor will care," said Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Food insecurity also happens when large quantities of foods that have little to no nutritional value, such as processed or junk food and meals high in fat and carbohydrates, are coupled by lack of adequate intake of nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables.
This seems to be the case for families that rely on federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to get food.
"Some families do rely on starchy, filling foods that may not provide all the vitamins and minerals they need," Schwarzenberg said.
To prevent this, the AAP has released a new set of guidelines to urge pediatricians to take the situation more seriously. The policy includes facts on the reality of food insecurity and the need to ask more sensitive questions regarding a family's eating habits and related information.
For instance, doctors are urged to ask, "Within the past 12 months, the food we bought didn't last, and we didn't have money to get more: yes or no?" during assessment.
"The health effects of hunger on children are pervasive and long-lasting, which is why our new policy urges pediatricians to take action in and outside of the clinic to conquer food insecurity and promote child health," Schwarzenberg said.