June 20, 2017 / 8:55 PM / 2 years ago

Suburban docs and parents are OK talking about food insecurity

By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - Medical guidelines say pediatricians should always ask families whether they have enough food to eat, but would that line of questioning go over well in suburbia? Yes, it would, two new studies show.

Parents in suburbia are comfortable having their children’s doctors ask if having enough food is a concern, researchers found. And suburban doctors don’t mind asking the questions and connecting families with assistance when needed.

“What we found is that parents were really okay with this,” said Dr. Deepak Palakshappa, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a researcher in its PolicyLab.

In 2015, about 16 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure, Palakshappa’s team reports. What that means is that parents feel unable to provide enough food for themselves or their children, said Palakshappa, who led both studies.

Children who grow up in those homes are more likely to have poor health, chronic medical issues and psychological issues, the researchers write.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2015 that pediatricians screen for and help solve food insecurity.

In 2015 and 2016, the researchers had healthcare providers at six doctors’ offices in suburban Philadelphia screen for food insecurity when parents brought children for their 2-month, 15-month and 36-month check-ups.

Altogether, the parents of 5,645 children were asked two questions: Had they ever run out of food for their family in the past year and had they ever worried about running out of food.

About 77 percent of the families were successfully screened. About 3 percent answered yes to one of the two questions. With their permission, those families were connected with a nonprofit organization that helps people apply for government food assistance programs.

In one of the two studies - both of which were published in Pediatrics - the researchers conducted 23 interviews with parents who were screened.

Many of them said they were initially surprised, “because they just don’t think this is part of routine care,” Palakshappa told Reuters Health. “Ultimately they feel comfortable talking to their pediatrician and clinician about it.”

In the second study, when researchers surveyed the healthcare providers, they found the providers didn’t mind asking the two questions. Some were concerned parents would react negatively, but in fact, families were appreciative that the healthcare providers cared to ask about the issue.

“Families really do feel comfortable talking about these issues with their pediatricians,” said Palakshappa. “This is one way to deal with families struggling to have enough food at home.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2rzWPBI and bit.ly/2rA3RGD Pediatrics, online June 20, 2017.

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