Pediatricians want to do more to prevent toxic stress

Pediatricians want to get more involved in making sure kids live in environments where they can thrive.

A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics covers the impact of toxic stress, and lays out what pediatricians can do to help.

Neglect, abuse, having a mentally ill parent, poverty, violence — all these factors can affect a child’s development. They can also have a lifelong effect on physical and mental health. A growing body of research documents a link between stress during childhood and later obesity, heart disease, and mental health problems.

In its new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls on its members to do something about it.  They should discuss toxic stress with families and screen children for its effects.

Pediatricians are in an ideal position to detect these issues early, according to Dr. Steve Kairys of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The pediatrician has 16 encounters with the family in the first couple of years in that child’s life,” Kairys said. “So there really is no better place structurally to get the kind of support and education that they so need.”

Dr. Mary Gavin, who heads the Delaware chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the new screening can fit into a regular office visit.

“They are already screening for developmental problems, and we can really see that doing a little bit more in-depth on the toxic stress issue can be linked in with the developmental screening that we are already doing,” Gavin said.

In the policy statement, the Academy of Pediatrics says doctors should work closely with organizations that can offer resources to make sure kids and families get help.

The group also calls on physicians to reach out to policymakers and educators to help them understand the impact of stress on children.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.