3 ways pediatricians can help poor families in the suburbs

A pediatrician and his patient

Poverty isn’t a problem exclusive to urban or rural areas. Pediatricians serving families who live in the suburbs need to be aware that some of these patients may also live in poverty and offer them help, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Given the established link between poverty and the adverse effect on health, the AAP has called on pediatricians to screen their patients and address any social determinants of health issues.

However, poverty has grown by 66 percent in suburban communities over the past decade, double the rate in cities, according to a perspective piece in the November issue of Pediatrics. Although almost half of pediatricians practice in suburban settings, many clinicians are unaware that poverty has grown substantially in their communities, write authors Deepak Palakshappa, M.D., and Alexander G. Fiks, M.D., of the pediatrics department at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.


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At the same time, there may be a lack of safety-net services in suburban communities, such as food pantries, free transportation and other social services.

Here are three steps according to the two authors, that pediatricians can take to mitigate the effects of suburban poverty on children’s health:

  • Promote literacy, through formal or informal Reach Out and Read programs, to help mitigate the effects on child development.
  • Post information on resources in your office. Put up signs to encourage families to discuss unmet social needs. That can serve as a signal to families that the office is willing to address these problems.
  • Advocate for patients. If clinicians begin to identify the specific unmet needs of families, they have first-hand knowledge of how these issues affect families and where gaps in services exist. “With this knowledge, practices could advocate locally, for example by partnering with local law practices, or at the state and national levels, including in partnership with the AAP,” the two doctors said.

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