Talking to Dr. Kofi Essel, you feel that he sees you, that he cares. It must be how his young patients feel every time they come to his office. You quickly understand he has a passion for his community that goes beyond just treating his patients. As a pediatrician, he takes a step further, caring for the well-being of the families in his community.
For this reason, families in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington D.C. have learned to trust him. He remembers when a mom pulled him aside to talk about the challenges facing her family.
“She was just overwhelmed with all the things that she wanted to do to support her family, but not knowing where to start,” shared Dr. Essel, explaining how difficult it can be for families to navigate benefit services and strategize when they are stressed about making it to the end of the month. He was there to help them out.
As a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Essel and other pediatricians across the nation have partnered with No Kid Hungry to support children under the age of six.
Part of the efforts include screening children for hunger and connecting them to community and federal resources such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
"Food insecurity occurs in every single county around this country,” explained Dr. Essel. “The question is, do I want to see it or do I want to unsee it?”.
As a Black doctor, Dr. Essel is particularly invested in serving and supporting his resilient community. He understands what it means for families to have a doctor that looks like them and the trust he can build.
"Families will share things with us that they won't share with anyone else,” he said. “And if families are willing to be vulnerable with us and share this deeper experience with us, it gives us a great opportunity to be a hub to then connect families to meaningful programs through the help of strong clinical community collaboratives. We're not doing this by ourselves, but we're working with our community partners who have been doing this work for generations."
Dr. Essel has a deep understanding about the impact of hunger in children under six. During these early years, children's brains and bodies are developing rapidly. Without the proper nutrients and with the toxic stress of not having enough food, children may experience delays in physical and cognitive development, which can have long-term consequences.
He spoke of poor outcomes in school, anemia and even increased hospitalizations, anxiety and depression.
"Kids are vulnerable, they're sensitive. You want to create a good environment to help them thrive. Just to say that they're resilient is not okay," he explained.
Dr. Essel made a call to pediatricians across the nation to recognize the impact of hunger on their patients’ health. He said that many doctors don’t realize that hunger exists in their communities, and many receive limited nutrition education in medical training. And he emphasized that “the time is “now” to become aware of these gaps and use our trusted platforms to act and to advocate.”
Talking of the health of children and good nutrition, he said, “You cannot separate them. They go hand in hand.”
With your support, No Kid Hungry will continue building the partnership with AAP to support the health of kids under six. Pediatricians are essential partners in our fight against childhood hunger. Together we will continue working to ensure every kid in the United States has the meals they need to play, learn, grow and pursue their dream.
You too can be part of No Kid Hungry. Learn more about how you can help children across America today.
Listen to Dr. Essel talk about culinary medicine in the Add Passion and Stir Podcast.