Data from ACH Clinics Indicate hunger continues

Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (April 24, 2015) – Parents in this state continue to struggle with figuring out where their children’s next meals will come from, often leaving families to make hard choices between basic needs like medicine or food, according to a new report issued this month by Children’s HealthWatch using data from Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH). Medical centers, physician’s offices and other places where children’s services are offered can help fight the epidemic with inspiration from model programs developing in the heart of the state, the report adds.
Arkansas has the second-highest overall population rate of food insecurity in the United States, with nearly 20 percent of all households indicating they don’t have enough food, the report notes. The stakes are even higher among families with young children, as more than 27 percent say they face food insecurity.
Data in the report was collected through surveys of families who received care in the Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) Emergency Department. In 2013, 22.7 percent of parents and caregivers with children under age 4 said they didn’t have reliable food resources. Many of the children in the sample have complex medical needs, and not having access to nutritious meals can be detrimental to their health. Their parents also are required to make difficult choices to afford medical care.
In 2008, the year of the major economic depression, Pat Casey, MD, medical director of the Growth & Development Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a leading researcher in food insecurity found that 20 percent of families who came to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for emergency treatment didn't know how they were going to afford their child's next meal. This was double the rate found in previous years, and the rates have remained fairly stable since. Meanwhile, Casey and other physicians noticed their young patients weren’t gaining the weight they needed to thrive because there just wasn’t enough food to go around.
Families should not be forced to make these types of choices so that their children can grow up healthy. Medical providers and other children’s resource services can develop programs that make a difference in this arena.
During the last two years, several pilot projects at ACH have been set up to help families find better and easier access to food. For several years, in-house financial counselors have served as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) application liaisons to help guide families through the complex enrollment process.
In addition, ACH started participating in the USDA Summer Food Service Program in 2013 and now participates in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This means that between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., any child who steps into the hospital – whether for a clinic visit, X-ray or accompanying a family member who needs care – can receive a free, nutritious meal thanks to federal funding from the USDA. ACH distributes thousands of free meals to children every week through this initiative. More than 15,000 free lunches have been provided through the USDA program.
In addition, ACH has teamed with a local food pantry and its social workers provide sacks of food for families identified as being in urgent need. The hospital also provides tours of grocery stores to instruct families how to purchase healthy foods inexpensively, and coordinates a course on preparing nutritious meals called “Cooking Matters.”
The Children’s HealthWatch report, titled Doctor’s Orders: Promoting Healthy Child Development by Increasing Food Security in Arkansas, encourages other pediatric health care centers of all sizes to take on similar endeavors that can help families access the knowledge and resources to feed their children nutritious meals. The report also lists ideas for getting started at any level of resources and best practices for implementing screening and assistance that can lead to a better-fed, healthier population of children.
To learn more about the report, visit http://www.childrenshealthwatch.org/2015/04/doctors-orders-promoting-hea...
Arkansas Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 370 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 95 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of Arkansas Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 370 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of championing children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow. For more info, visit archildrens.org.
Children’s HealthWatch is a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers and children’s health and policy experts. The data collection group analyzes and shares findings with academics, legislators and the public to inform public policy practices that can give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives.

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