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Does Your Income Affect Your Child's Health? Doctors Think So

The Short of It

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that pediatricians should perform poverty screenings at all well-child visits.

The Lowdown

According to a press release, when families are struggling financially, the health effects can be toxic and far-reaching for kids. Research shows that living in poverty can cause lifelong health problems, including infant mortality, poor language development, higher rates of asthma and obesity, and an increased risk of injuries. Child poverty has also been linked to toxic stress that can alter gene expression and brain function and contributes to chronic cardiovascular, immune, and psychiatric disorders, and behavioral difficulties.

Published in the April 2016 issue of Pediatrics, the AAP's new policy statement urges doctors to connect the 1 in 5 U.S. kids living in poverty and the 43 percent who qualify as low-income with community resources by asking parents a simple question: "Do you have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?"

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"We know that poverty-related conditions can take a significant and lasting toll. But we also know there are effective interventions to help buffer these effects, like promoting strong family relationships, which cause positive changes in the body's stress response system and the architecture of the developing brain," explains John M. Pascoe, MD, MPH, FAAP, and lead author of the report.

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The AAP stresses that poverty affects kids in all communities, from cities to suburbs, which have seen the highest increase in tumbling incomes since the 2008 recession.

"Poverty is everywhere. It affects children of all backgrounds and in all communities," says AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP.

The Upshot

Although the problems facing very low-income kids are stark, the AAP says realistic solutions can help dramatically improve their quality of life. The organization points to state and federal anti-poverty and safety net programs, health care, early childhood education, affordable housing, home visiting programs, and critical nutrition support programs, like WIC, SNAP, and the school lunch program, to support kids in need.

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Beyond government assistance programs, I love how the AAP also recognizes that strong families who foster resilience in their children provide them with tools that will lead to a happier, healthier future.

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