Loaves & Fishes was fortunate to have members of the Smile Squad visit our facility recently, a mobile dental clinic that travels from place to place in DuPage County offering general dental checkups to at-risk children. One of our visitors on Smile Squad day was a mother with a 5 year old boy. She was excited when she saw the mobile unit and anxious to get her son into the chair. He had been complaining of a tooth ache, but a quick examination showed a more serious problem. Dental decay marred almost every tooth, leaving little hope for an easy solution.
Unfortunately, poor eating habits that are allowed to continue over long periods can have all kinds of devastating health consequences. Children are especially at risk, since the early years are important for the proper development of bones, brain architecture, and even social interactions.
When food insecurity is part of the problem, it’s important to recognize and address these circumstances as soon as possible. With better communication between the medical community and relief agencies, we might be able to spot and curb food insecurity issues before they develop into a life-long problem. We need a connection between the medical community and safety net organizations.
I think we’ve found that link in the Hunger Vital Sign™. The Hunger Vital Sign™ is a simple screening tool developed by Children’s HealthWatch to identify young children in households at risk of food insecurity. Those who answer “yes” or “sometimes” to either of the following questions may have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods:
Children’s HealthWatch has found in their clinical trials that compared to young children in food-secure households, families at risk of food insecurity are more likely to be in fair or poor health, to have been hospitalized, and to be at risk for developmental delays. For the same reasons, mothers of young children are more likely to be in fair or poor health and to report depressive symptoms.
Loaves & Fishes is building partnerships with the medical community to implement this screening tool in local doctors’ intake notes. Then, after the doctors determine that a family is food insecure, they will connect the families to resources that can make a difference, such as our Community Food & Nutrition Program. It’s time to screen and intervene. Stay tuned for more progress on this necessary collaborative initiative.
Jane Macdonald, Associate Director of Community Health