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Babies Born in Poverty Suffer Poor Health

Poor nutrition puts these infants at high risk for medical problems, study found

TUESDAY, June 1, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Babies in the United States who live in homes plagued by poor nutrition are more likely than other infants and toddlers to suffer poor health, including illnesses severe enough to require hospitalization, claims a study in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers compared children 3 years old and younger living in food-insecure homes to children living in food-secure homes. Food insecurity refers to limited or uncertain access to enough nutritious food.

Children living in food-insecure homes were about 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized and about 90 percent more likely to be rated as having fair/poor health.

"The results of this report are very disturbing," study author John Cook, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"Modern science shows poor nutrition weakens a child's immune system, predisposing them to recurrent infections, and impairs their ability to learn. Our findings also show stresses accompanying food insecurity are harmful to a child's health even if the child is not underweight," Cook said.

"Just 60 percent of eligible children receive food stamp benefits," co-author and pediatrician Dr. Carol Berkowitz, of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.

"Given that 17 percent of American households with children are food-insecure, the national implications of these findings are staggering. The failure of nutrition safety-net programs to reach all children in need may be contributing to growing national healthcare costs," Berkowitz said.

More information

The American Medical Association has information about healthy food choices for young children.

SOURCE: Journal of Nutrition, news release, June 1, 2004
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