DULUTH, Minn., August 25, 2012 — Increasing access to healthy food for low-income children may be one of the best prescriptions available, according to a Minneapolis physician. It can increase the likelihood of childhood development within normal limits and good health. Federal nutrition programs for children make a difference that can last a lifetime.
“Kids under three are often not monitored in other places besides coming to see their doctor,” says Diana Becker Cutts, MD, Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). And the “Vulnerable Period” for human brain development is birth to age three. That is why, in addition to giving immunizations and writing other prescriptions, she is championing participation in the federal nutrition programs.
A prescription for being able to buy healthy food is effective. That is why Cutts refers her patients to two federal programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Both are aimed at helping people who struggle to get by. Her research demonstrates how they help her young patients.
Dr. Cutts is a leader with Children’s Health Watch (CHW) that monitors children’s health at the front lines of care (the doctor). She was in Duluth to share her research and perspectives at the Minnesota Food Access Summit: Increasing Access to Healthy Food for Low-Income Minnesotans. She and over 400 other leaders discussed how to best ensure that low-income Minnesotans have access to healthy food. She wants people to spread the word about the nutrition prescription since it is easy and fast to see positive results.
Are you a parent who makes sure your children see their doctor, yet struggles to feed your kids fruits, vegetables and proteins? Are you a Grandma or a neighbor who wants to help your children or grandchildren? Give them the toll free number for information about SNAP (1-800-221-5689). For WIC toll free numbers click on the link and scroll to your state to find the number.
Now that school is starting, help is needed to pass the word about the programs to school teachers and nurses. “School teachers are one of the most helpful advocates. Often they buy food themselves to bring to their classrooms to feed some kids. They need to know they can refer people to these programs,” Cutts says.
“School nurses also see kids who didn’t get breakfast. And some schools offer free school breakfasts on days when standardized tests are taken,” she added. Health effects on the brain include:
* School studies show negative effects of even temporary hunger on cognitive tests
* Behavioral changes including apathy, aggression, anxiety, attention difficulties in school children
* Younger children, in the period of most rapid brain growth, can be passive, less exploratory, with shorter bouts of play, and less attentive to stimuli around them
Kids are hungry in Minneapolis. At HCMC, doctors see about 25,000 visitors per year. In a 2011 survey, four out of 10 families with children under age four experienced hunger. The health effects that have been documented include:
* Inadequate diet associated with increased risk of infectious diseases – otitis (ear) and URI (urinary tract)
* Increased fatigue
* Increased headaches and stomachaches
* Increased risk of hospitalization (CHW)
* Higher prevalence of poor/fair health (CHW)
Hunger is costly. Hungry children are at greater risk for:
* Hospitalizations. In 2008, the median expense for children under 5 years was $4,664.
* Being sick. In 2008, median expense of an ED visit for a child under 5 years old was $351 and an office visit was $289.
* Developmental delays. In 2001, average cost for a special education pupil per year was $6,000 or potentially $54,000 from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Add up the negative health effects and the costs associated with them and it is clear why more solutions must be found.
“We have very little investment and we have tremendous pay-off,” says Dr. Cutts, referring to a study of SNAP and eligible non-SNAP participants. The SNAP participants were likelier to be healthier including:
* Lower risk of underweight
* Lower risk of developmental delays
* Less child food insecurity
* Less household food insecurity
* Fewer health care trade-offs (for example, not filling prescriptions in order to pay rent, etc.)
“We see the results of SNAP participation magnifying the benefits for immigrant mothers and their children, “Cutts adds.
Being a WIC participant also provides proven health benefits:
* Every dollar spent on pregnant women in Minnesota WIC produces $4.21 in Medicaid saving for newborns and their mothers.
* WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of low birth-weight babies by 25% and very low birth-weight babies by 44%.
As the participants of the Healthy Food Summit say: “It is not easy or something that any one entity can do alone. It will take many people from many perspectives with many innovative ideas to ensure that access to healthy food is a reality across the state.”
More information from the Healthy Food Summit can be found on the new, free website Healthy Eating Minnesota Network.
For now, it is easy enough to pass the word about how to help hungry children. Don’t wait until they have to see the doctor.
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Read more from Donna Rae Scheffert at Washington Times Communities and Online Leadership Tools.
Donna Rae is an award winning writer, consultant, planner, facilitator, and coach. One Minnesota organization gave her a coveted ‘Futures’ award. Another named her the 2002 Outstanding Faculty member. She has co-authored five books and numerous articles. She is the founder of the consulting firm Leadership Tools.
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