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Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain
Taking on the parenting duties of supporting a newborn child is stressful enough even when everything is going well.
But parents living in low-resource settings also have to fight government red tape to stay enrolled in vital food benefit programs, according to a study published in the journal Dec. 26, 2023. In some cases, the stress has a measurable impact on infants’ emotional and behavioral health. JAMA Pediatrics.
Given the importance of the first year of life for overall brain development, addressing food security disruption is an issue that requires rapid intervention, said lead author and clinician in the Department of General and Community Pediatrics. said researcher Chidiogo Anigbo, MD. At Cincinnati Children’s.
“Many studies have linked household food insecurity to negative child mental health conditions such as depression, externalizing and internalizing behaviors, and hyperactivity,” Anigbo says. “However, these studies have focused almost exclusively on children over 9 months of age. To our knowledge, this has been linked to household food insecurity and issues of access to nutrition benefit programs and This is the first study to document an association with behavioral problems over a 6-month period. This finding shows that every month is important at this stage of a child’s development, and that early intervention can have lifelong benefits. This is important because.”
Measurable, predictable and avoidable outcomes
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers many recommendations for preventive screening for children’s physical and mental health. Pediatricians can use blood tests, scanners, and other tools to tell us a lot about an infant’s health, but understanding how the environment affects mental health can be a simple task. It’s not work.
This study conducted regularly during primary care pediatric well visits to identify populations of infants at risk for developing early behavioral problems due to factors such as food insecurity and the impact of public benefit programs. We used two measurement tools: Overall, the study analyzed data on more than 1,500 infants, 90% of whom lived with families who received or were eligible for public health insurance (Medicaid).
Researchers began using a screening tool to assess health-related social needs (HRSN) before 4 months of age. They compared that information to another standard tool called the Infant Childhood Symptom Checklist (BPSC), which is given at six months of age.
HRSN data reveals a range of challenges that under-resourced families can face, including challenges meeting basic needs for food, shelter, and safety. However, in this study, researchers found a special correlation between reports of food insecurity and difficulty maintaining benefits and infant behavior measured in more detail at 6 months of age. discovered.
Overall, about 26% of families surveyed reported babies who displayed an unusual amount of behavioral dysfunction, including inflexibility, difficulty with daily routines, and irritability. The more problems reported in the HRSN data, the more problems will be discovered later in the BPSC data.
“Specifically, if two or more problems were identified on the HRSN screen, children were twice as likely to demonstrate behavioral concerns on the BPSC screening test that were severe enough to prompt a clinical review,” Anigbo said. he says.
Early intervention can help
“We already know that food insecurity can increase mental distress, worsen emotions, and weaken attachment between parents and children,” Anigbo says. “Screening tools that can detect these concerns early on give us an opportunity to intervene.”
Pediatricians and primary care clinics have near universal access to infants and are well-positioned to connect families to food pantries and local food banks. Families can also connect with parent support programs, services to help with insurance coverage, and programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Anyigbo has already begun work on an online platform and QR code project to help more families speaking different languages overcome the challenges of qualifying for food benefits through the WIC program.
“The idea that we need a support system like this is not new,” Anigbo said. “What is new is evidence of how important addressing food insecurity immediately is for the healthy behavioral development of infants.Challenges in accessing public nutrition benefits such as WIC This is particularly important given continued calls for Congress to fully fund the WIC program. . ”
For more information:
Chidiogo Anyigbo et al., Newborn household health-related social needs and infant behavioral functioning at 6 months of age; JAMA Pediatrics (2023). DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.5721