Pediatricians should screen all children to determine if they’re getting enough to eat, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says in a new policy statement.
The statement also recommends that pediatricians learn about and refer families in need to community resources, and that they push for government policies that increase people’s access to adequate and nutritious food.
More than 15 million American children live in homes plagued by hunger, putting their health at risk, according to the AAP.
“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,” policy co-author Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg said in an AAP news release. Schwarzenberg is director of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Children and teens who don’t get enough to eat are sick more often, are slower to recover from illness and are hospitalized more frequently than those with good diets. Their overall health is poorer and they also are more likely to lack iron, which helps make red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body, the statement said.
Adolescent boys who don’t get enough to eat have lower bone density. And poor nutrition in early childhood is associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease later in life, the statement added.
In addition, children who don’t get enough healthful food are more likely to have difficulty concentrating and doing well in school, and more apt to have behavioral and emotional problems, according to the statement.
“As is the case with many childhood health conditions, being malnourished or not getting enough healthy food early in life has effects that can last well into adulthood,” Schwarzenberg said.
The policy statement was published Oct. 23 in the journal Pediatrics and will be presented Saturday at the AAP’s annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.
“We are in the midst of a nutritional crisis in our country, and when you’re in a crisis, you can’t keep doing what you’ve always done,” AAP President Dr. Sandra Hassink said in a news release.
“That’s why pediatricians are taking a comprehensive approach, connecting families to resources and advocating to keep federal nutrition programs like WIC and SNAP strong. It will take all of us — pediatricians, parents, government leaders, educators — partnering together, to do our best to ensure that no child goes hungry in this country.”
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about child nutrition.