Effort to feed Cincinnati babies who were going hungry off to good start, study affirms

CINCINNATI – A novel way to fight hunger among Cincinnati's newborns and their families is working, according to a two-year study  that's pushing the sponsors to spread the program across three states and maybe nationally.

The KIND program, short for Keeping Infants Nourished and Developing, surveys all the patients who use six pediatric clinics run by Cincinnati Children's Hospital, two Crossroad Health Centers  and Price Hill Health Center, asking caregivers whether they ever have trouble finding enough formula for their children.The health providers work in partnership with Freestore Foodbank on the program.

Those who answer yes to any of the hunger-related questions are offered a can of formula and a host of other support services, including access to social workers, government food assistance programs and even GED tutoring to help parents qualify for higher-paying jobs and achieve financial security.

In theory, KIND sounded good. In practice? The study, published this week in the research journal Pediatrics , found:

• Between June 1, 2011 and May 31, 2013, 1,601 cans of KIND formula and educational brochures were distributed to 1,042 families with infants.
• More kids in the program received their full set of recommended checkups from birth to 14 months than those who weren't in the program – 42 percent to 29 percent.
• Families in the program tested their children for lead poisoning more than those who weren't – 81 percent to 75 percent.

"I think the implementation has gone very well," Freestore President and CEO Kurt Reiber said. "The reality is that we think we can continue to expand the program."

The Procter & Gamble Fund financed the initial program with a $100,000 grant that paid for formula and diapers, which are purchased from Kroger at a discounted rate.

Reiber wants to use Cincinnati's KIND program as a model for communities throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana in communities with a children's hospital and active food banks. Freestore is reaching out to Ohio Association of Food Banks , Feeding Indiana's Hungry  and Kentucky Association of Foodbanks  to help implement the program elsewhere.

He is optimistic that the program can find sustainable funding from advocates like Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Interact for Health (formerly The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati).

"We think the foundations will rally behind this program once they see the success that's envisioned. We take great comfort in the support we get from the community," Reiber said.

He is also pushing for a chance to make a presentation to Feeding America in October  to take the idea nationwide.

Children's found that almost 30 percent of its pediatric clinic patients were "food insecure," or worried about having enough to eat, and about 15 percent were stretching formula for their babies.

In the 20 counties served by Freestore, 300,000 people are struggling with hunger, and one-third of them are children, according to Reiber. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. We're trying to really bring awareness that there are mothers out there who aren't able to provide the formula they need."

Infants and toddlers who don't receive the proper nutrition are more likely to face big problems that can throw their  life's trajectory off course, including anemia, developmental delay, acute illnesses, and increased hospitalizations.

The program is an entry point to addressing other issues affecting the health and well-being of families.

"It's in some ways a conversation starter," said Dr. Andrew Beck, lead author of the research article and a creator of the KIND program. "We've encouraged broader social screening, and also to package the intervention with advice with making a food budget stretch and services families can use. One can of formula is not going to solve world hunger. It's more about who to talk to after that can runs out."

After just two years, it's still too early to scientifically assess how well KIND has done at providing more nutrition and warding off negative health consequences, but Beck says the anecdotal evidence is encouraging.

"The outcomes we've been most excited about are the doctor-patient relationships.  The more likely beneficial outcomes are over the long term in terms of development and behavior and life trajectory," he said.

Both Freestore and Children's say their partnership has been greatly strengthened through KIND. Residents now spend time at Freestore's Liberty Street location interacting with the hungry and finding out more about the circumstances that have brought them there.

"The best thing has been our working relationship with the Freestore and their ability to push us in a positive direction and our ability to refer people to them," Beck said.

Interested in helping the KIND program? Click here .

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