Are You Poor? Why Pediatricians Will Now Ask Parents About Income
Height, weight, and developmental milestones are all standard assessments for doctors during well-child visits. But, questions about the parents' monthly income will soon join this list. The reason: More and more studies have found that poverty is playing a major role in children’s health. Indeed, according to a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), nearly one in five American children live in poverty. Poverty, by definition, is a measurement of household earnings in relation to the size of the family and ages of the family members. Due to all of this, the AAP is now encouraging pediatricians to ask parents, “Do you have trouble making it to the end of the month?” in order to connect them with community services that can alleviate poverty.
Dr. Mary McAteer, pediatrician at Riley at IU Health , says she sees the effects of poverty on her families firsthand. “Poverty has a huge impact on children's health,” says Dr. McAteer. “In the short term, it can affect learning and growth.” But poverty can affect children in the long-term as well. “Under stress, certain genes get activated, and it can actually lead to heart disease, hypertension, obesity, all kinds of things that impact your health for the long-term,” she says. And while people tend to associate poverty with hunger, Dr. McAteer says the issue can be more complicated that simply not being able to obtain food.
“[Poverty] is not just about hunger and lack of food, it can also involve exposure to traumatic events,” she says. “For instance, statistically, we know that people who live with poverty are traumatized more often – either victims of crime or perpetrators of crime. When children witness violence in their homes and when their safety is challenged that can act as a stressor.” Other stressors include housing insecurities like lack of heat or utilities, frequent moves and disrupted schooling.
So what resources can pediatricians provide to people in poverty? Resources like WIC and SNAP are among the most popular for combating poverty. In-office social workers can also help connect families to community resources such as food banks or counseling services.
“As a pediatrician, I have always felt very connected with our community as far as advocating for kids in poverty. Now this [screening process] makes it normal,” Dr. McAteer says. It's a respectful way to let families know I care about them and I can and want to help.”