Sixteen million children live in homes where there is consistently not enough food, according to the Department of Agriculture. Those children get sick more often, have poorer overall health and are hospitalized more frequently than peers who are adequately nourished.
So-called food insecurity also has been linked to behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.
“It’s high time,” Mariana Chilton, the director of Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University, said of the new policy. “We know food insecurity drives up health care costs, and is associated with more hospitalizations, and is related to poor childhood development and health.”
Few pediatricians research childhood hunger, said Dr. Chilton, a principal investigator of Children’s HealthWatch, a national network tracking the impact of public assistance programs on pediatric health.
“It’s been very difficult to get the broader pediatrician community to pay attention to food insecurity, and yet it’s one of the most important vital signs of a child’s health and well-being,” Dr. Chilton said.
The academy’s new policy also encourages pediatricians to familiarize themselves with local food banks and federal nutrition programs.