Imagine you’re a dietitian. What do you do when the state where you live is the third hungriest in the nation? And 18.9 percent of households with children under 18 are at risk for food insecurity, nearly two percentage points above the national average?
If you’re Anne Hoisington, the answer is outreach. And some of the best people to engage are health care providers – specifically physicians and nurse practitioners, who have the most direct contact with patients. Hoisington, a registered dietitian with Oregon State’s Extension and an instructor in the College of Health and Human Sciences, is currently compiling the results of a survey she and Oregon’s Childhood Hunger Coalition sent to 1,800 physicians and nurses around the state. The idea was to gauge providers’ interest in the topic of childhood hunger, and to see how many of them wanted more information for their clinics.
“They are very vocal about childhood hunger,” says Hoisington. “We wanted to find out what they knew about food scarcity and food insecurity, and to see if they wanted to know more. And they are interested.”
Hoisington and the Coalition team so far have received 300 of the surveys, which were funded by the governor, back from practitioners. What has surprised them was how many took the time to comment on the survey, and that some who had lost the survey called Hoisington to request new copies. Hoisington cites the economy as a potential reason for this level of interest.
“We first sent this survey out to 600 clinics in the Portland Metro area two and a half years ago. We got a good response. But the economic situation has changed so much, and that could explain the huge response to the current iteration of the survey,” says Hoisington. “Things have gotten critical, and doctors are well aware of how it’s impacting children and families.”
Hoisington and the team want to make sure that practitioners are aware that the risks for childhood hunger go beyond the physical – they include academic, behavioral and social problems. The team is also using part of the governor’s funding to create 3,000 tool kits that will go to clinics around the state. The kits include food assistance outreach materials.
The success of the Coalition’s Portland Metro survey resulted in an online childhood hunger course sponsored by OHSU and taken through Oregon State’s eCampus. So far, more than 400 practitioners have registered for the class since its October, 2008 inception. A dietetics program in Arizona and a nursing program in Florida have even made the course a requirement for graduation. Hoisington thinks that the outreach materials that go with the class will be useful for any professional involved in food scarcity issues.
Hoisington hopes that the current, statewide survey will help illuminate some of the different attitudes practitioners have about dealing with childhood hunger. She envisions other states finding the survey and toolkit model useful.
“We want to help others put together similar programs appropriate for their state, to help them with tailor-made food assistance outreach materials that will work for them,” Hoisington says.