Monday, November 2, 2015

A Check-up on Health and Hunger

        The first day of Loyola University Chicago’s annual hunger week began today Monday, November 2nd. Hunger week is a school wide tradition with the intent to increase awareness of hunger issues and raise money for organizations fighting hunger year round. Over 30% of families with food insecurity stated they had to decide whether to pay for food or medical care. With parents struggling to take care of their children’s health and nutritional needs, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is implementing a change to address these competing concerns. During the American Academy of Pediatrics’ National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC the organization released a statement on a new policy titled “Promoting Food Security for all Children.” According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approximately 16 million children do not have access to sufficient amounts of food, and 7.9 million children are currently living in food insecure households. For many the grocery budget is one of the only flexible portions of their monthly bills. Rent and utilities are a fixed amount, but food costs can be stretched or squeezed to accommodate other immutable monetary demands.

        In their statement the AAP noted the connection between childhood food insecurity and lifelong health effects. The USDA defines food insecurity as limited access to adequate food due to financial or other resource concerns. Children in food insecure households at any level are sick more often, hospitalized more frequently, recover from illnesses more slowly, and are more likely to suffer from malnutrition which can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease in their adult lives. Lack of sufficient, nutritious food has also been linked with detrimental behavioral and emotional effects, such as impaired ability to concentrate and perform well at school.

        The new policy acknowledges the difficulty in recognizing malnutrition in a wide variety of demographics. During a child’s usual check-up the typical medical indicators of malnutrition may not be apparent. Dr. Sarah J. Schwarzenberg, a contributor to the policy and a director of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, acknowledged the misconception that food insecurity is easily recognizable because the individuals will look ‘poor.’ Though commonly associated with children in urban low-income households, children in the suburbs and rural areas are also susceptible to food insecurity. Families with unemployment, underemployment, low-income, or those that are headed by a single parent may not match the stereotypical food insecure image. Income is more unpredictable than before which has lead to a rise in chronic hunger for families across the nation.

        Physicians are asked to screen families for food insecurity during their doctor’s appointments and recommend community or governmental resources. The screening tool asks two questions: if the parent worried that their food would run out before they could purchase more, and whether their food was able to last until they were could purchase more. Nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Erin R. Hager, stated these questions would identify 97% of food insecure families. The across-the-board screenings will create an opportunity for parents to broach the subject with their physician. This intermediary step removes the fear and embarrassment of asking for help, since children and parents are unlikely to initiate a conversation about these struggles on their own. Physicians can use this moment to reassure the family that their situation is common and they’re willing to help. The new policy suggests all physicians maintain a list of community resources and familiarize themselves with the programs. Identifying food insecurity early and providing information about how to access food resources will hopefully counteract the growing numbers of child hunger and prevent negative health effects before they begin.



1. New AAP Report Targets Lack of Adequate Food as Ongoing Health Risk to U.S. Children, American Academy of Pediatrics, (last visited October 29, 2015).


2. Catherine Saint Louis, Pediatricians Are Asked to Join Fight Against Childhood Hunger, N.Y. Times, Oct. 23, 2015, 9.


3. Allison Aubrey, Are You Hungry? Pediatricians Add A New Question During Checkups, National Public Radio, Oct. 23, 2015,


4. David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, 201 (2004) available at (last visited October 29, 2015).


5. Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian Gregory, Anita Singh, Household Food Security in the United States in 2014, United States Department of Agriculture,  (last visited October 29, 2015)

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