A New Diagnostic Tool Will Help Children Previously Labeled Failure to Thrive Access Treatment Options

These children will now be diagnosed with pediatric feeding disorder and can use insurance to help cover treatments. 

High angle view of baby boy sleeping on weight scale
Photo: Getty

A new diagnostic tool called pediatric feeding disorder (PFD) may help families with a diagnosis of "failure to thrive" by getting insurance coverage to help them cover the costs related to therapies and supplements needed for their child's growth.

Pediatric feeding disorder is a new diagnostic tool that is not well known among doctors, insurance companies, or even families. But that will soon change now that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has identified PFD and adopted a diagnostic code.

In 2014, an organization called Feeding Matters created a collaborative group of international doctors to work with AAP to create a clear diagnostic criteria to define pediatric feeding disorder; this will help doctors and parents better identify why a child is not thriving and help them gain access to the kinds of therapies and treatments needed to help kids with PFD. Furthermore, this diagnostic criteria has a code, which was adopted by the AAP. This code adoption means that PFD can now be covered by insurance to help families afford the high cost of treatment associated with PFD.

Any parent who has taken their child to the pediatrician for a well-child checkup is likely familiar with the growth chart. This chart is a bell curve that describes average height and weight growth and is used as one of many measurements of health. But sometimes, a child doesn't seem to gain enough weight or grow tall enough to hit the markers of what is considered to be a typical curvature of growth, and that is when a doctor will start using the phrase "failure to thrive."

But what can be frustrating for parents is that it is not always clear what causes failure to thrive. And while it may feel like a stigmatized diagnosis because the phrasing can often make parents feel guilty, the reality is that many underlying medical issues could be at play.

Together, the doctors and organizations published a consensus definition and conceptual framework that defines pediatric feeding disorder as "impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate, and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, and/or psychosocial dysfunction."

According to Feeding Matters, PFD affects 1 in 37 kids under the age of 5 in the United States each year. And according to the AAP, "PFD affects up to 20% of neurotypical children and 80% of those with developmental disabilities. Thus, it is more prevalent than eating disorders and autism spectrum disorder."

In an economic impact report crated by Feeding Matters in 2019, an estimated 2.6 million kids under the age of 5 are affected by severe PFD each year. For families with PFD, the high cost of prescription formula, therapies, and other treatments can be unaffordable; 76% of respondents told Feeding Matters that PFD was at minimum a moderate financial burden.

As part of their advocacy, Feeding Matters created a toolkit to help families and doctors better understand what PFD is, which can help doctors accurately diagnose a child with PFD and lower the costs related to the disorder.

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