Behavior & Development • Jun 22, 2015

Kids eating all your food before you can buy more? We can help.

Food insecurity in the United States is a growing phenomenon affecting millions of children:

  • 15.8 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2012
  • Twelve million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 3.5 million of which are ages 5 and under
  • Nearly one in four (24 percent) client households with children report participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Last year, only 8 percent of Missouri’s children who qualify for free/reduced lunch received summer meals through the USDA’s summer feeding program.

What is food insecurity?  Defined as existing when “the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain,” food insecurity among children is especially common in the summer when children do not have access to school-based food programs.

Given the significant impact that food insecurity can have on a child’s health and development, St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s resident physicians have joined the American Academy of Pediatrics’ FACE poverty initiative.  FACE poverty is aimed at helping patients and their families facing food insecurity in the St. Louis community. To accomplish this, a 3 question screening tool aimed at identifying families facing food security was developed for the use in the setting of pediatricians’ offices. The screening tool takes less than a minute to complete and consists of some basic demographic information and 3 questions. Residents are encouraged to implement the food insecurity screening program in the more than 100 pediatricians’ offices in the St. Louis area where pediatric residents work.

When a family with a positive screen is identified, parents can then be directed toward both immediate and long-term resources to help meet their needs. These are listed in the “Food Help for Families” resource card. Immediate resources exist in the form of food pantries which can be located via the Hunger Hotline or the food pantry locator on the St. Louis Food Bank website. A QR code on the handout can help families locate resources quickly. Food pantry locations often change and the Food Bank and the Hunger Hotline are able to provide the most up to date information about pantry locations in a family’s area.

Long-term resources include No Child Hungry, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):

  • WIC: Provides food assistance in the form of vouchers for healthy food to pregnant women, new mothers and children under 5 based on nutritional and income needs (≤185 percent the poverty level in MO) determined in an in-office assessment.
  • SNAP: Provides assistance based on income needs. Families receive a set amount of money to purchase food. Applications can be made by mail in MO and by mail or online in IL.
  • No Child Hungry: Provides assistance through a summer meal program and after-school child care programs.

The FACE poverty initiative of St. Louis Children’s Hospital hopes to better understand how, where, and why food insecurity exists in St. Louis, so that we can better serve our children.