Pediatricians have been encouraged to screen families for food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to food needed for an active and healthy life. But few studies have looked at effective ways to screen for food insecurity, particularly in suburban settings.
A study in the July 2017 Pediatrics, "Clinicians' Perceptions of Screening for Food Insecurity in Suburban Pediatric Practice," published online June 20, evaluates the feasibility, acceptability and impact of screening in suburban practices. The study, conducted within the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, implemented food screening methods in six suburban pediatric primary care practices.
Researchers found that about 2.8% (122) of the 4,371 participating children came from food insecure families through the screening. While they found clinicians receptive to using the food screening tool despite fear of embarrassing the families, they discovered that the referral method was ineffective in assisting families to obtain benefits to remedy the problem. Many families reported that they were either already receiving benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or had been deemed ineligible.
A companion study, "Suburban Families' Experience with Food Insecurity Screening in Primary Care Practices," also published in the July 2017 Pediatrics (online June 20) and by the same research team, reported results from interviews with 23 parents who had participated in the food screening program.
Parents expressed surprise at being asked about food insecurity, and were initially afraid that they were going to be reported to child protective services.
Some reported frustration that they did not have enough access to food but were ineligible for benefits.
Parents suggested that clinician practices could be most helpful by providing information about where to apply for benefits and what documentation to bring, as well as a list of locations and transportation routes for food pantries.