Survey helps doctors help hungry patients

May 27, 2008

girl with doctor photo by iStockphoto

PORTLAND, Ore.– Hunger isn't just a social issue - it's a health issue, according to survey results of nearly 200 doctors and nurse practitioners in the Portland metropolitan area.

The Childhood Hunger Initiative of Oregon released the results today in conjunction with Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proclamation of Oregon Hunger Awareness Week, May 26-30.

Kulongoski also challenged Oregon medical professionals to join in the fight against hunger by working with the Childhood Hunger Initiative to learn about the impact of hunger on child health and by providing clinical interventions that support improved health and nutrition for hungry patients.

Survey results show doctors and nurses want to learn more about the health consequences of hunger, discover how to discuss the problem with their patients and develop effective ways to incorporate interventions into their clinical settings.

"Health providers are in a good position to identify children at risk and to provide appropriate interventions," said Anne Hoisington, a nutrition education specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service, who helped design and conduct the survey.

"However, health providers sometimes find it difficult to address household food status in a clinical setting," Hoisington noted. "The majority of respondents cited time constraints as a significant barrier to asking parents about their ability to get the foods their children need for good health. Most respondents said they would welcome a standardized screening questionnaire to identify risk for household food insecurity."

Said one survey respondent: "Many parents are reluctant to share this...I think it (screening tool) would open doors to conversation."

Childhood hunger can increase a child's risk for frequent illness, developmental and academic problems, and poor nutrition resulting in underweight and, paradoxically, overweight.

"Parents may be reluctant to share information with doctors about hunger in their families," said Hoisington. "Or physicians might miss a long-term problem of food insecurity by asking about short-term eating habits."

OSU Extension, Oregon Food Bank, Providence Health System, and Oregon Health & Science University funded the survey.

Hoisington and her collaborators are using the results of the survey to develop an online course and learning materials entitled "Childhood Food Insecurity: Health Impacts, Screening and Intervention." The course will be available later this year through OSU's Extended Campus as continuing education credits for health care providers.

It will use funds from the "Governor's Initiative on Improving Health for Low-Income Oregonians through Improved Nutrition" to develop the course.

To learn more about hunger and health, visit the Oregon Food Bank online or e-mail the Oregon Food Bank.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Anne Hoisington, Jean Kempe-Ware