Special Blog Post By: Dr. Rhea Boyd, Pediatrician, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Children’s Hospital Oakland

Dr. Rhea Boyd is a pediatrician who works at Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s urgent care, as well as at Children’s Hospital Oakland’s teen clinic. She spoke to us about the impact that hunger has on children, and how local pediatricians are taking a stand against childhood hunger.

When kids come to the doctor for well-checks, we always ask about nutrition. Losing or gaining weight can be an early sign of illness in kids. During my residency, some of my patients were babies who weren’t gaining weight. I found out that many parents were watering down their baby formula.

Often parents are trying to stretch formula because it’s so expensive, even when the family is participating in WIC (Womens, Infants, and Children, a public nutrition program for new mothers and children). But if babies aren’t gaining weight in the early months, they probably aren’t getting enough nutrients to build their brains, bones, and organs.

When parents talk about cutting back on formula, there’s a bigger issue in the household. Food usually isn’t the only thing they’re worried about. Food can open a conversation about other issues that are equally important to the family’s health, like if they have a safe place to sleep at night.

I’ve always been interested in advocating for children’s health, including the issues my patients face outside of the time I see them in the office. For the past year, I’ve become more involved with the American Academy of Pediatrics. We’ve been advocating for universal screening for food insecurity in pediatric clinics to see if our patients and their families are at risk for hunger. For each patient, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends we ask our patients if the following statements describe their situation: “Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more” and “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.”

Some clinics in our region are fortunate to have wonderful social workers or even on-site food distribution sites for individuals or families who are in crisis. Other clinics that don’t have those resources may find it difficult to address their patients’ hunger issues. So the American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with a tech nonprofit called OneDegree. We’ve created an app that helps health providers connect families with every social service they need, including food assistance. It’s expanding to Santa Clara County soon.

For kids, food is directly related to school performance, health, and their risk for chronic diseases. It affects their entire life trajectory. As pediatricians, we can help protect our children from hunger, which threatens their health and wellness.

***More than 90% of the food we distribute is highly nutritious. Find out how you can get involved and support our work.