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New online course to provide health care professionals with tools to help families who are hungry

03/31/10  Oregon

As the economy continues its downward spiral, more families struggle to put food on their tables.

As the economy continues its downward spiral, more families struggle to put food on their tables.

“For children, hunger isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s dangerous,” said Rachel Bristol, executive director and CEO of Oregon Food Bank. “Hunger jeopardizes a child’s development, health and future productivity.”

Now, doctors and nurses have a new tool to help them identify at-risk children and families to intervene in the clinical setting.

The Childhood Hunger Initiative (CHI), Oregon State University Extension Service and Oregon Food Bank jointly announce during Oregon Harvest Week a new, online course to help the medical community identify and work with children and families struggling with hunger.

The free, five-module course, “Childhood Food Insecurity: Health Impacts, Screening and Intervention,” is available.

“Health care professionals are in a unique position to address the consequences of childhood hunger,” said Governor Kulongoski. “I’m proud to partner with the Childhood Hunger Initiative and encourage health care professionals to take advantage of this one-of-a-kind course to learn ways to assist families in need.”

CHI and OSU Ecampus developed the course in response to a survey of physicians and nurses in the Portland metro area. Funding for the course was provided by OSU Extension, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Health & Services and the Oregon Department of Human Services.

“The survey showed that doctors and nurses want more knowledge about the health consequences of childhood food insecurity and how to incorporate intervention strategies into their clinical settings,” said Anne Hoisington, OSU Extension nutrition education specialist.

Deborah Frank, M.D., and professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medical and founder of the Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, praised the new course.

“This is a masterful summary to help Oregon physicians understand and address food insecurity that is threatening the well-being of mothers and children in their care,” she said.

The course takes about an hour to complete and is available to anyone. Learners can earn one continuing medical education unit and receive a certificate of completion for taking the course and passing the test.

“As more and more families struggle to feed their families, they often resort to eating low-cost, poor-quality food. This translates into health problems for children,” Hoisington says.

Research shows that children who don’t get the food they need are at a higher risk for developmental, academic and health problems, notes Hoisington.

About 12 percent of Oregon’s households struggle with hunger. Children facing hunger are at risk for life-long health problems, according to numerous studies.

The majority of those responding to the survey (78 percent) said they are comfortable talking with patients about food status in a clinical setting. And 89 percent said they are willing to use a standardized screening question to identify risk for household food insecurity.

The online course demonstrates ways to communicate effectively with patients about hunger and to help them find food assistance programs.

The Childhood Hunger Initiative (CHI) is a network of health care professionals, anti-hunger advocates and other interested Oregonians working together to educate the medical community, policy makers and the general public about the medical, developmental and psycho—social impacts of childhood food insecurity and hunger.