Imagine waking up in the morning and finding the cupboard (and refrigerator) bare. Then going to school or work and trying to concentrate. This situation occurs all too frequently for kids and adults in America, but the good news is that you can help get nutrient-rich foods like milk to those at risk for hunger. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement that provides guidance to help pediatricians screen and identify children at risk for food insecurity and connect families with needed community resources.
In 2013, 16 million children in this country lived in households that experience lack of consistent access to adequate nutritious foods. While we often think of food insecurity affecting traditionally underserved communities, it actually occurs in every county in the U.S.
While the research on food insecurity and associations with health-related outcomes is a relatively new and emerging topic, it has been growing since Dr. David Satcher, the 16th U.S. Surgeon General, brought attention to it in the 2004 and 2013 Action for Healthy Kids Learning Connection reports. Today, many organizations dedicated to child health and wellness are honing in on this area, including National Dairy Council and GENYOUth and the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the AAP, “there are multiple adverse health outcomes strongly correlated with food insecurity.” This makes common sense when you think about it — it can be a real struggle for kids to pay attention or do much else when their tummies are growling.
The suggested first step to assess the potential for food insecurity in families is to use a screening tool. Asking if they agree with these two simple phrases can help identify food security for the family as a whole:
- Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
- Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.
If a family answers “yes” to either of these phrases, you can refer them to resources available in the community, which may include:
- WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children)
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
- National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs
- Summer Food Service Program
- Child and Adult Care Food Program
- Food pantries and soup kitchens
Today is Hunger Action Day and, as a health and wellness professional, you can help in many ways on this day and every day of the year by:
- Supporting community programs that provide access to healthy food
- Educating community leaders about the issue of food insecurity
- Volunteering at your local food bank or food pantry to pack and/or deliver foods for community outreach
- Donating a gallon of milk to those in need through the Great American Milk Drive
- Joining a fund-raising effort like a walk or run to help fund community efforts to provide food to families struggling with food insecurity
Whatever you choose to do, consider how you will help families — especially those with children — obtain consistent access to adequate, nutritious food.
Visit HealthyChildren.org to learn more about children’s health and nutrition and check out the Healthy Food Bank Hub to find additional resources to use in your community.