As a pediatrician and a public health professional, I'm in a unique position to see how strengthening the social fabric of families and communities can directly improve the health of children. The context of where a child lives, plays and grows is paramount to understanding the many factors that impact medical outcomes and lead to health disparities.
As we mark
National Public Health Week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) joins hundreds of other organizations committed to building a culture of health where everyone has access to the conditions and resources they need to be healthy. With milestones this year such as the AAP's poverty and child health policy statement, we have much to celebrate. But ongoing events such as the Flint, Michigan lead crisis remind us that we also have much work to do.
Working for a local health department, I've had the opportunity to work with programs such as our local Head Start to address the issue of "toxic stress," which is experienced by far too many children and families living in poverty. I've seen first-hand how programs that support the social and emotional development of young children and their families, along with ensuring basic needs are met, can buffer the damaging effects of poverty. It is this experience that has heightened my passion for improving partnerships between pediatricians and public health practitioners.
"Considering the profound impact poverty has on child health, it is critical that pediatricians continue to develop partnerships with community resources to help address this issue."
Building a culture of health involves forging partnerships between the diverse sectors that impact the health of communities. School-based health clinics, for example, are an effective way the medical and education sectors can team up to improve children's health. It was in this setting I treated a young girl newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes who had just immigrated to the United States. She needed to have a school physical and school medication forms completed in order for the school nurse to administer her insulin. Her family had not yet established a primary care provider. Through the health department sponsored school-based health center, I was able to complete her physical, administer her vaccines and complete her required school forms, avoiding a delay in treatment for this life-threatening disease.
A key theme of this year's National Public Health Week campaign is the relationship between economic mobility and health and showing how poverty and poor health go hand-in-hand. Children living in poverty have higher rates of developmental delay, chronic disease, infant mortality and poor nutritional status than those who are economically secure. Economic hardship remains a prevalent problem in the United States, with nearly half of children living in or near poverty.
Considering the profound impact poverty has on child health, it is critical that pediatricians continue to develop partnerships with community resources to help address this issue. Establishing partnerships will help pediatricians better coordinate care and address the needs of children affected by poverty.
"Building a culture of health involves forging partnerships between the diverse sectors that impact the health of communities."
Pediatricians also should advocate for the many programs proven to help to ameliorate poverty in our communities. These programs include the following:
It is encouraging to see an increased emphasis within medicine on developing partnerships to improve the overall health and well-being of children and families. I applaud the move of pediatricians to engage more with these community partners to address the myriad of ways social factors affect a child's health. I urge both my public health and pediatric colleagues to come together to continue the discussion about how each can work with the other. National Public Health Week is a great opportunity. I know I'm not alone in welcoming the opportunity to work together.
Learn more below about how pediatricians can collaborate with public health colleagues. To get involved with the AAP Public Health Special Interest Group, email your name and AAP ID number to email@example.com.