It may come as a shock for Cincinnatians to learn that the rate of food insecurity and hunger in our community exceeds regional and national averages.

In 2009, Rob Kahn, MD, surveyed families in our Pediatric Primary Care Center (PPCC). Nearly half reported they sometimes ran out of food and didn’t have money to buy more. One in seven said they diluted infant formula to make it last longer.

Kahn and his PPCC colleagues were deeply concerned.

“It’s scary to think about babies less than a year old not getting enough food,” says Melissa Klein, MD. “We couldn’t just learn this and not do something about it.”

They sought partners in the community to help address the problem. By March 2011, they were able to launch Keeping Infants Nourished and Developing − or KIND.

KIND bridges healthcare, advocacy, community collaboration and education to improve the health of infants.

The Freestore Foodbank purchases infant formula, using grant funds from P&G. Kroger participates by offering a discount on its generic formula. The PPCC is the distribution site.

Cincinnati Children’s added questions to our electronic medical record system to prompt PPCC physicians to consistently screen patients for food insecurity and hunger.

If a family with an infant is worried about not having enough food, the PPCC gives the family a can of formula − not a lot, but enough to feed the baby for a few days.

“We know one can of formula is not going to cure hunger or poverty,” says Dr. Klein, “so we also want to link families with resources in the community.” Along with the formula, doctors give the families educational materials, including tips on how to stretch their food dollar in healthy ways; resources for food, budgeting and skill training; and resources for getting a diploma or GED.

Educating families is just half of KIND’s teaching mission. The other half is educating physicians to think more holistically.

“Hunger is invisible,” says Dr. Klein. “You have to ask, and you have to know how to ask sensitive questions in an empathetic, supportive way to get honest answers.” Doctors don’t routinely learn this in medical school, so KIND’s mission includes teaching residents these important skills.