New training is helping doctors in the Pediatric Primary Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s diagnose food insecurity in local families.
Cuts in the federal WIC program, which provides vouchers for families to help buy infant formula, cereal and other nutrition basics, mean many families coming into the hospital’s two primary care clinics can’t afford to buy a full month’s worth of formula for their babies.
Led by physicians Andrew Beck, Rob Kahn and Melissa Klein, staff in the clinics found that about a third of families were answering “yes” to questions like “In the last year, were you afraid your food would run out and you wouldn’t have money to buy more?”
They also learned that one in eight families were trying to “stretch” their supply of formula by adding more water or diluting it to make it go further.
But babies need fat in the formula for proper brain development, plus calories to grow. Diluting the formula means they’re not getting proper nutrition.
Now, medical residents and attending physicians who staff the clinics regularly ask families about food insecurity. It seems like a simple step, but some of the residents didn’t know about the WIC program. And some didn’t want to ask about a problem they didn’t know how to solve.
But it’s a pediatrician’s job to ask the tough questions, said Klein, a pediatrician who specializes in underserved populations.
“Hunger is invisible. You have to ask,” she said.
Teaching doctors how to ask about sensitive issues also helps them learn to discuss depression, unsafe housing conditions and other touchy subjects that impact a child’s wellbeing, Klein said.
Cincinnati Children’s Primary Care Center partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati several years ago. That success sparked a partnership with the Freestore Food Bank and now other connections are in the works.
Now residents at the primary care clinics know where to point families for the help they need. They’re also giving families information on how to earn a GED, and resources on how to get help with food and utility bills if necessary.
Dr. Klein says the hospital’s long-term goal is to continue to create more community partnerships.
Through these connections, those involved are showing they recognize the skills and gifts that each organization has to offer in jointly creating a healthy community.