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Pediatrics Project Helps Fight Hunger, Boosts Health

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hunger Vital Signs Team

In 2015 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement identifying the short and long-term adverse health impacts of food insecurity.  The policy cites research that shows:

- Children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the lowest levels, get sick more often, recover more slowly from illness, have poorer overall health and are hospitalized more frequently.

- Children and adolescents affected by food insecurity are more likely to be iron deficient, and preadolescent boys dealing with hunger issues have lower bone density. Early childhood malnutrition also is tied to conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

- Lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child's ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.

In October 2017, NVRH St. Johnsbury Pediatrics joined other practices in Vermont in the UVM Child Health Advances Measured in Practice (CHAMPS) Social Determinants of Health Project focusing on food insecurity.  The aim of the project was to increase (by 10%) the use of an evidence-based screening tool to identify food insecure patients and families, and create a referral protocol and intervention to reduce hunger and food insecurity. 

St. J Pedi quickly adopted the research validated Hunger Vital Sign™ screening tool to identify families at risk in the practice. 

Every patient or parent was asked the two-part screening question.  “If you don’t ask you don’t know,” says Kara Pool, DNP, FNP-BC, nurse practitioner and part of the CHAMPS team.  About 9% of their patients identified as being food insecure.  “That is higher than we expected,” added Kara. 

The Hunger Vital Sign™ identifies households as being at risk for food insecurity if they answer that either or both of the following two statements is ‘often true’ or ‘sometimes true’ (vs. ‘never true’):

“ 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.”

Food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household.  In the NVRH service area, about 1 in 5 children are food insecure.

Some families had been struggling with having enough money for food for quite some time, but often, it was a short term or temporary decrease in financial resources due to things like changing or being in-between jobs.

The AAP also recommends that pediatricians become familiar with, and refer, families to available community food resources.  The team at St. J Pedi found that many patients and parents did not know how or where to supplement their household food supply.  The team created a protocol that includes a referral to the NVRH Community Connections program, and a handout that lists all the charitable food resources in the region on one side, and on the back, simple healthy tips for families with young children. 

Over the term of the project, St. J Pedi far exceeded their project aim of a 10% increase in using a screening tool.  At times, 100% of their patients were screened, with an average of about 75% of patients screened in the past year. 

Screening for food insecurity and referral to food resources is now the “standard of care” at St. Johnsbury Pediatrics.  And the best thing about being part of the CHAMPS project?  “We knew this would make a difference in our patients’ lives”, says Jeanne Nummelin, RN, Clinical Coordinator. “And it did."

Find a complete list of area food resources on the NVRH Healthy Choices Newsletter.

Pictured: Members of the CHAMPS Food Insecurity Project St. Johnsbury Pediatrics (from left) Linda Barrett, Kara Pool, Jeanne Nummelin, Cheryl Stahler review tools from the CHAMPS collaborative. 

 

Submitted by Laural Ruggles, MBA, MPH


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