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CHC to provide doctors and nurses with new tool to screen for hunger-related health issues

March 25, 2010
Jean Kempe-Ware
OFB General

PORTLAND, Ore. (March 23, 2010) – “In the past month, was there any day when you or anyone in your family went hungry because you did not have enough money for food?”

That’s the new question you may soon hear your doctor ask at your child’s next health exam.

For the first time, more doctors, nurses and other health providers throughout Oregon will use that question as a standard tool to screen children they see in their clinics for health issues related to hunger.

This week, the Childhood Hunger Coalition will distribute more than 3,000 “Childhood Hunger” toolkits to pediatric and family practice providers across Oregon. The toolkits include a childhood hunger screening and intervention algorithm, beginning with the question above, plus information about food resources available to families struggling with hunger.

“Those of us in the health profession are often the first to see health problems related to hunger,” says Dana Hargunani, pediatrician, Oregon Health & Sciences University. “Armed with the proper information and resources, we are well-positioned to identify patients at risk and to provide appropriate intervention.”

The Childhood Hunger Coalition developed the toolkit, as well as an online course, in response to survey results of 470 health practitioners across Oregon.

Survey results show doctor and nurses want to learn 1) more about the health consequences of hunger and 2) how to discuss the problem with their patients and 3) effective ways to incorporate interventions into their clinical settings.

According to survey results:
• 97 percent of respondents in the Portland metropolitan area and 98 percent in Oregon counties outside the metropolitan area identified food insecurity as a problem that should be addressed in the clinical setting with proper screening and intervention tools.
• 90 percent are willing to use a standardized screening question to households with food insecurity,
• 99.6 percent of respondents are willing to refer at-risk families to food assistance and public health programs.

“Health providers told us they sometimes find it difficult to address household food status in the clinical setting,” said Anne Hoisington, a nutrition education specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service, who helped design and conduct the survey.
“The majority of respondents cited time constraint as a significant barrier to asking parents about their ability to get the foods their children need for good health. In addition, parents may be reluctant to share information with doctors about hunger in their families,” she noted.

“Most respondents said they would welcome a standardized screening questionnaire to identify risk for household food insecurity,” Hoisington said. “Therefore, we worked with health care providers to identify a standard question that doctors can use in the clinical setting to screen children for hunger-related health issues.”

In addition to developing and distributing the “Childhood Hunger” toolkit, Hoisington and her collaborators used survey results to develop an online course, “Childhood Food Insecurity: Health Impacts, Screening and Intervention,” for health care professionals working with children and their families. More than 600 health care providers have completed the course in the past year. The free course is available at

Hunger is escalating in Oregon at an alarming rate. Hunger is particularly difficult for households with children.

A recent FRAC (Food Research and Action Center) report, using Gallup data, shows a striking difference in the food hardship rate between households with and without children in Oregon. For households without children, it’s 15 percent. For households with children, it’s a startling 26.7 percent.

An abundance of research shows children who are hungry get sick more often and have more trouble learning in school. Childhood hunger and malnutrition can result in irreversible health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, later in life.

“Child hunger is a health problem, an educational problem and a job-readiness problem. It also impacts both short and long-term health-care costs,” said Rachel Bristol, CEO, Oregon Food Bank.

The Childhood Hunger Coalition includes representatives from Oregon Health & Science University, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Oregon State University Extension, Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Food Bank and the Oregon Hunger Task Force. CHC is supported by the Governor’s Hunger, Health and Nutrition Initiative and the Oregon Department of Human Services.

The Governor’s Hunger, Health and Nutrition Initiative and the Oregon Department of Human Services provided funding for the survey and toolkit.

About the Childhood Hunger Coalition
The Childhood Hunger Coalition is an interdisciplinary collaborative that educates, conducts research and advocates to link food security and health outcomes. The CHC network of health care professionals, anti-hunger advocates and other interested Oregonians believes that childhood hunger must be understood as a public health concern.

About Oregon Food Bank
Oregon Food Bank is a nonprofit, charitable organization. It is the hub of a statewide network of more than 935 local partner agencies serving Oregon and Clark County, Wash. OFB recovers food from farms, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, individuals and government sources. It then distributes that food to 20 regional food banks across Oregon. Sixteen are independent charitable organizations. OFB directly operates the four regional food banks serving the Portland metropolitan area, southeast Oregon and Tillamook County. Those four centers distribute food weekly to 380 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs helping low-income individuals in Multnomah, Clackamas, Clark, Washington, Harney, Malheur and Tillamook counties. OFB also works to eliminate the root causes of hunger through advocacy and public education.

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