To Address America’s Poverty Epidemic Doctors To Start Screening For Child Hunger

Doctor Screening For Hunger and Food Insecurity
Doctor Screening For Hunger and Food Insecurity

Most Americans, regardless their economic situation, would agree that as a nation the United States is the richest country on  Earth. It is also true that most Americans, except for the very wealthy, would agree that the income inequality in the richest nation on Earth is an abomination of epic proportions. One of the dirty little secrets plaguing the richest nation on Earth is that income inequality, driven by thirty years of conservative economic ideology, has put America in the unenviable position of having the second-highest percentage of children living in dire poverty and suffering hunger and food insecurity every day of their lives. Now, at long last, an organization has stepped forward to confront the issue head on with only one major obstacle in its path; the Republican Party.

For four years running America has held the distinction of being a first-nation on par with many third world nations as far as the plight of its children. In Washington D.C., while President Barack Obama and Democrats have fought to correct the situation, Republicans have sought various ways to destroy anti-poverty programs they claim are robbing funds they insist belong to corporations and the wealthy despite world organizations ranking America at the top of several lists for neglecting child hunger.  Since Republicans have ignored the issue, and Democrats are impotent to do anything because their base does not care enough about poor hungry children to go to the ballot box, a private organization is making an effort to help. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued unprecedented guidelines for doctors to determine if a child is suffering hunger or food insecurity and to provide resources to help parents feed their kids.

According to the AAP, a national association of American pediatricians, all doctors should start screening their child patients for hunger, and the lesser-known problem of food insecurity. Food insecurity is a terrifying condition of  never knowing whether or not there will be sufficient food on a daily basis. It is nearly as devastating as not having adequate nutrition due to the psychological and emotional stress on parents and children.

This is the first time the AAP has ever made such recommendations to physicians, and joining the organization’s efforts to address the hunger epidemic is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who will be “touting the new policy” beginning next week.  It is also the first time the plight of hungry children is being addressed in a national campaign, and if the AAP had designs on conservatives’ economic agenda, it is a futile effort because nothing is going to affect Republicans intent on maintaining the status quo.

The AAP examined data from 2007 to 2014 and found that over 16 million children in the richest nation on Earth live in households that struggle mightily to put food on the table in a consistent manner. In data released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) last month, the situation has improved ever so slightly over the past eight years as the number of children getting enough food was actually at its highest point since 2007 due to the Obama economic recovery allowing millions of out-of-work Americans find a job.

The number of children receiving adequate nutrition fell drastically during, and after, the Republican-created recession, and although the situation is slightly improved over the past two years, “it could be much better” according to one of the new policy’s lead authors Sarah Schwarzenberg. However, it is never going to get better until income inequality is addressed by something as simple as raising the minimum wage and fully funding anti-poverty programs instead of the Republican approach of eliminating them.

Republicans likely understand perfectly that the number of Americans sliding into food insecurity did so because of job losses, pay cuts, or lack of federal or state-funded anti-poverty programs. They just could not care less no matter the broad scope of the problem reaching every part of the nation. In their policy statement, the AAP said the problem affects Americans in all areas of the nation including many surprising and unexpected regions; “This demographic of food-insecure Americans extends far beyond the areas of concentrated urban poverty and into suburbs and rural America, areas often mistakenly thought to be immune to this problem.”

Public school teachers and education experts not aligned with Republican and President Obama’s private charter school crusade are well-aware of the child hunger, or food insecurity, problem affecting student performance for at least a decade. But, child hunger and food insecurity also leads to several health problems in adulthood, including diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, and mental and emotional distress. Other serious health issues include iron deficiency and lower bone density in preadolescent boys, and all children who go without adequate and healthy foods find it nearly impossible to concentrate or perform well in school. Either being hungry, or knowing there will be no food at home is one of the primary drivers of poor results in schools; any public school teacher and several peer-reviewed long-term studies can attest to that well-known fact.

The AAP’s attempt to do what few in Washington believe is important is suggesting that pediatricians and family practitioners become aware of food and meal planning resources that are available and acquaint themselves in how best to refer eligible families to programs that may ameliorate the problem. The pediatric association is recommending that all medical practitioners screen their patients during routine health maintenance visits.

Because it can be complicated, and difficult to know when a family or child is experiencing food insecurity or hunger, the AAP is recommending a fairly common screening procedure a physician can use during any regular office visit.  As the AAP’s Schwarzenberg said, “I don’t think you can look at someone and say who is food insecure. They often look OK, they may even be obese. But they may not know where their next meal is coming from.”

So the doctor just asks the patient to reply with a yes or no to two statements to figure out if the patient is food insecure. First,

Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” And second, “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.”

Although it is very embarrassing and uncomfortable for patients to admit they are struggling to feed their children, it can be even more demeaning to ask for help. The AAP is urging doctors who think they have determined that a child or family is hungry to “offer access to programs that will help a patient obtain regular food” such as WIC and Snap, school nutrition programs, local food pantries, summer and child care feeding programs and other community resources.” Many of those programs are perpetually targeted by Republicans who claim combatting child hunger and poverty are too costly and a waste of money that is better being spent on tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, or in subsidies for the fossil fuel and weapon industry.

It is likely that the new effort to address child hunger and food insecurity will do very little to alleviate the problem because the core issue is still income inequality that Republicans created and refuse to address. It is true that a couple of lying Republicans say it is a problem, but their only solutions are precisely what created the issue to begin with; give more wealth to the rich, keep wages at poverty levels, and slash anti-poverty programs.

After reports, studies and research by several national and international human rights organizations have condemned the richest nation on Earth for its high number of families and children going hungry, at least there is a national medical organization making an effort to address child  hunger and food insecurity. However wonderful and valiant recommendations are, or how compassionate the AAP’s crusade is, this country’s finances are the purview of hard-hearted Republicans.

If Republicans cannot bring it upon themselves to help adequately feed the roughly 22,000 (2011) American military families, or 2 million Veterans, who are struggling to get by using food stamps, it is certain they will do nothing whatsoever to help adequately feed 16-million hungry children.  They have opposed every attempt by President Obama and Democrats to address the income inequality driving poverty, food insecurity, and child hunger because helping any American who is not filthy rich is just not in their nature; and no medical organization’s recommendations are going to reduce the contempt they have for America’s hungry children.

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