Almost half of US households with children live at or below the federal poverty level–incomes below the $23,500 for a family of 4. This means that a large proportion of our children are growing up in homes that are struggling to provide basic necessities.
Poverty has many negative effects on children, including an increased risk of chronic diseases like asthma, obesity and diabetes; more injuries and poorer social-emotional health. Children in poverty usually enter kindergarten behind on various developmental domains when compared to same age peers not living in poverty.
Today the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement urging pediatricians to screen for poverty and help connect families to community resources and agencies to secure housing, food and childcare. Pediatricians routinely screen child development, behavior and other issues known to affect child health. So why not make sure families are not struggling with basic resources to ensure each child has a bed to sleep in, access to nutritious and healthy foods and high quality childcare. While this may be daunting, pediatricians are up to the task because it is the right thing to do.
The US leads the pack with the highest level of child poverty in the developed world. This is unacceptable. We owe it to our children to do what we can to ensure every child gets a strong start.
So the next time you go to the pediatrician’s office, do not be surprised if your child’s doctor asks whether you are struggling to make ends meet at the end of each month. It will soon become part of the status quo.