Child Development
Pediatricians Take Aim at Poverty and Children’s Health

Pediatricians Take Aim at Poverty and Children’s Health

March 23, 2023

By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director

Some 15.5 million American children live below the federal poverty line, according to 2023 census data. That’s one child in five in the United States. As many as 31.5 million are at risk of falling close to or below that line.

These are shocking figures for the world’s largest economy. And the figures show little sign of improvement.

Now the influential American Academy of Pediatrics has made poverty and child health a top priority, with a nationwide initiative, policy statement and technical report in the January 2023 issue of Pediatrics.

The organization is calling upon its 60,000 members to screen families for poverty risk factors and recommend resources that can help. That’s why your child’s doctor might ask, “Do you have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?” The answer could lead to insights that could protect your child’s health.

Poverty increases infant mortality rates and contributes to asthma, obesity, poor language development, injury and more. Of course, it takes an emotional toll as well. Poverty exposes children to what the AAP calls “toxic stress,” a condition that, over time, can alter how a child’s brain functions and can cause chronic cardiovascular, immune and psychiatric disorders, as well as behavioral issues.

Environmental advocates know that children living in poverty are among the most vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures: contaminated water, polluted air and cleaners and processed foods laced with harmful chemicals. Poor children suffer from greater risk of lead poisoning, are more likely to visit the emergency room for asthma attacks and are more likely to live in housing with mold and pests.

Healthy Child Healthy World, powered by EWG, advocates better environmental safeguards to reduce air and water pollution, regulate toxic chemicals and remove harmful additives from food and household products. Click here to learn how you can help.

In addition to screening for risk factors, AAP recommends that pediatricians support policies to lift children out of poverty. The organization points to the success of Medicare and Social Security in dramatically reducing poverty among the elderly, and to social programs, such as SNAP benefits, that have cut family poverty almost in half. The organization lists these advocacy resources, practice tips and communication materials to support pediatricians in their new work with patients.

AAP’s anti-poverty initiative follows a related policy position the group took last January, aiming to help 16 million American children who lack adequate food. You can learn more about how AAP is addressing food insecurity here.