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Research has shown that health disparities vary by ZIP code. Yet, pediatricians in every ZIP code will encounter families who are experiencing food insecurity — an adverse social driver of health, said Kimberly G. Montez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, vice chair of the AAP Council on Community Pediatrics Executive Committee.
“The most recent national data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlight that 14.8% of households with children experienced food insecurity in 2021, and these statistics are over 2.5 times worse for Black and Hispanic children compared to White children,” said Dr. Montez, assistant professor of pediatrics and associate director of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.
Because food insecurity in children is associated with chronic health conditions, behavioral/emotional problems and difficulties in school, the AAP recommends that pediatricians screen patients to find out if they don’t have enough food and connect families with resources.
A 2019 survey of pediatricians, however, showed they face many barriers to screening routinely, including time constraints, lack of resources to address food insecurity and worrying that screening will uncover other issues they might not be able to address.
Dr. Montez will lead a session on Friday, Oct. 7 titled “Building Pediatrician Capacity To Address Food Insecurity” (S1010), where she will provide concrete strategies that pediatricians can incorporate into their practices. The session will be held from 1-2 p.m. PDT in rooms 156/160 of the convention center and also will be livestreamed.
Dr. Montez’s interest in food insecurity was ignited when she moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., about four years ago and discovered that one in five children had limited or uncertain access to enough food.
“I was struck at how high the food insecurity rate was among households with children in my community,” she said.
The situation drove her to take action.
Dr. Montez has worked with the AAP on a national level to elevate the topic of food insecurity, and educate and encourage pediatricians to screen, intervene and advocate. She also has represented the AAP in federal advocacy initiatives, including briefing the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor on food insecurity among Latino children and presenting at a White House listening session on hunger, nutrition and health.
Dr. Montez will discuss several AAP efforts to improve food insecurity screening, referral and resource delivery to families, including a partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and an Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes quality improvement project with chapters. She also will describe creative ways pediatric practices can address families’ food needs such as onsite food pantries and food prescriptions.
“The main take-home message of the session,” she said, “is to equip pediatricians with the strategies and knowledge to address food insecurity within their practice, as well as on a community/state level.”