If the doctor asks to see your paycheck at your kid's next well visit, it's probably because of these new guidelines from the AAP.
doctor talking to worried mother
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Don't be surprised if the doctor asks to see your paycheck at your kid's next well visit. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new recommendations urging pediatricians to screen their patients for poverty.

Why doctors?

According to 2014 U.S. census data, 15.5 million children under 18 are currently living in poverty in the U.S. When you add in households designated as poor, near poor, or low-income, that number jumps to more than 31.5 million. And research shows that living in persistent poverty can cause severe health problems in children—things like asthma, obesity, poor language development, increased risk of injury, depression, and even psychiatric disorders.

So maybe the question we should all be asking is: "Why not doctors?"

"Poverty is everywhere," says AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D. "It affects children of all backgrounds and in all communities. Pediatricians want to improve the health and well-being of every child, and helping families deal with poverty-related issues is essential to achieving that goal. This is a problem that can be solved, and it's well within our reach."

How? According to the AAP, just a pediatrician asking patients a single question, "Do you have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?" can help identify the families who would benefit from resources in their communities.

"We know that poverty-related conditions can take a significant and lasting toll," says John M. Pascoe, M.D., a lead author of the report. "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."

Some of the AAP's recommendations for pediatricians include:

  • Screen for poverty-related health risk factors during well-child visits by asking about basic needs such as food, housing, and heat, and refer families who need help to community resources.
  • Identify and build on protective factors within families, such as cohesion, humor, support networks, skills, and spiritual and cultural beliefs.
  • Advocate for public policies to support all children and mitigate the effects of poverty on child health, including initiatives that increase access to healthcare, healthy food, and safe and affordable housing.

"Fifty years ago, the U.S. came together and nearly eliminated poverty in the elderly," Dr. Dreyer said. "It's time to do the same for children."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.