Pediatricians tackle a growing health challenge for children: hunger

Just over 375,000 Georgia kids struggle with hunger, according to the food bank organization Feeding America.

It's a problem exacerbated by the pandemic and the major surge in food prices.

Morehouse Healthcare pediatrician Dr. Nicola Chin says doctors need to have hunger on their radar screen because food insecurity is a daily reality for many Metro Atlanta children.

Childhood hunger is tied to poorer health, anxiety, developmental risks and poor performance in school, she says.

"We know about 12% of households experience food insecurity," Dr. Chin says. "For Georgia, it's maybe one in four households right now, especially with the pandemic."

Hunger is an issue, Chin says, pediatricians need to be asking families about it during routine well 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 for how to address hunger, screen for food insecurity, and connect families with the resources they need.

Part of the toolkit is a two-part questionnaire, asking families if, in the last 12 months, they have worried about running out of food or have run out before they could get money to buy more. 

Both, Chin says, are signs of food insecurity, which can involve either access to too little food or an unreliable supply of food.

"There should be no child or family that is that food insecure because there are resources that are out there," Chin says.

The toolkit list includes a list of federal nutrition assistance programs and emergency food resources, from SNAP to WIC, to programs offering free breakfast, lunch, afterschool meals, and meals for kids in the summer.

Dr. Chin says it will take a team effort to get families living with hunger connected to programs that can help them.

"Including the pediatricians, who should be able to say, 'Here is WIC, here is SNAP, and if you're eligible, why aren't you receiving it? Do you know how to be eligible for it?'" she says. " (We are) Just explaining so many different ways of getting the resources to our families."