Health professionals learn to spot food insecurity

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although more than 12 percent of Oregon's households are considered to be "food insecure," compared to 11 percent nationally, it's not easy to identify individual households where meals are skipped because of lack of money to buy food.

However, more than 200 nurses, physicians, dietitians and other health-care practitioners have taken an online course offered by Oregon State University's Ecampus that advises how to identify at-risk families and direct them to community resources for help. Developed by the Oregon Childhood Hunger Initiative, the course also has been visited by another 2,500 people since it began in October 2008.

Households that are food insecure typically do not have enough food, nor do they have enough food that is nutritionally adequate and safe. Children who are poorly nourished are at-risk with their physical health, emotional and psychological well-being, intellectual achievement and social relationships with family and peers.

The free, five-module course, “Childhood Food Insecurity: Health Impacts, Screening and Intervention,” is available online.

"Health providers are well-positioned to address childhood hunger because the doctor's office is a place of regular contact outside the home," said Anne Hoisington, OSU nutrition education specialist. "Although most believe food insecurity should be addressed in a clinical setting, a 2007 survey of health providers in the Portland metro area found that a majority are unaware of resources for help."

The survey included 600 physicians and nurse practitioners working in pediatric and family practice.

The course advises how to ask sensitive questions on routine questionnaires. After accessing subtle signs of food insecurity, course participants also learn how to ask probing questions that can determine how to intervene.

Also, health providers learn to consider the financial impact clinical recommendations can have on the family food budget. They can provide patients with informational flyers or brochures and access to outreach workers, social workers, registered dietitians and local food resources. They are encouraged to put posters in the waiting room to help parents and caregivers feel more comfortable talking about their household food supply.

The course takes about an hour to complete. One Continuing Medical Education credit is available; registration and the online exam are required. The course is supported through funding from OSU Extension Service, the Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services.

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