Pediatricians are being told to ask patients about more than just how they’re feeling.
They’re being told to ask them if they're financially healthy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a set of recommendations today that urge pediatricians to screen their patients for poverty.
The goal is to reduce the health problems that many times come along with poverty, including obesity, asthma, poor language development, injuries, depression, and psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Ben Gitterman, chairman of the AAP’s Council on Community Pediatrics and one of the lead authors on the new policy, described the recommendations as the ultimate in preventative medicine.
“This is why it really matters,” he told Healthline.
“The recommendations are completely in line and appropriate with all the research showing how much impact poverty can have on children,” Laura Segal, director of public relations for Trust for America’s Health, told Healthline. “It’s exciting to see pediatricians taking a lead on this issue.”
What Doctors Are Being Asked to Do
The AAP recommendations urge its 64,000 physician members to simply ask parents at all well-child visits how the family is doing financially.
The inquiry involves one simple question: “Do you have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?”
AAP officials say this information will provide doctors with an opening to suggest dietary, exercise, lifestyle, and other health-related actions.
It also provides them the opportunity to recommend community resources that can provide assistance such as food banks.
Pediatricians are also being asked to become advocates for public programs and policies that increase access to healthcare, healthy food, and affordable housing.
“We want them to think about this in a much more pro-active way,” Gitterman said.
“It encourages them to be thought leaders and social change leaders,” said Segal, whose group published a report last November on early childhood health.
Both Gitterman and Segal said they believe doctors will take on this responsibility and that their patients will listen.
“I am optimistic we will have an impact,” Gitterman said.
Why It’s Important
A 2014 report from the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that one in five children live in poverty.
AAP officials say if you count poor, near poor and low-income households within that group the number swells to about 43 percent of children in the United States that live in poverty. That’s more than 31 million individuals under the age of 18.
AAP officials note that poverty has always been high in rural and urban areas, but now suburban communities are seeing the quickest and strongest growth in this area.
“Poverty is everywhere. It affects children of all backgrounds and in all communities,” Dr. Benard P. Dreyer, FAAP, president of the AAP, said in a statement.
Officials note poverty produces more than the obvious health ailments such as malnutrition and infections.
The list of chronic, lifelong illnesses related to poverty is a long one. Reducing them not only improves families’ lives, it also reduces healthcare costs.
Gitterman said that’s why the AAP wants to move poverty from being a secondary concern to a “primary issue” among doctors.
“It’s been elevated to something that we are going to take head on," he said.