Growing up, I always viewed my pediatrician as a tongue-depressor-wielding and vaccine-delivering adversary.
These days, children may still have the same fears of going to the doctor’s office, but they might now also be greeted by a book—and a chance for developmental success.
In addition to administering what we think of as classic primary care duties, such as vaccines, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) will now also advise parents to read aloud to their infants. [Editor’s note: The benefits of early reading was emphasized in our conference, Inequality Begins at Birth. Summary here.]
AAP’s new policy underscores the changing role in our society of pediatricians becoming more comprehensive caretakers. Health advice, the AAP contends, should extend far beyond shots and nutrition, and pushing the benefits of story time is a solid step in the right direction.
Evidence links the number of words infants hear to income inequality. Children in lower-income families tend to hear fewer words as infants, and those who hear fewers words tend to do worse developmentally, which ties into a lack of success later in life. The good news is that, regardless of economic class, all children benefit from being read to.
This initiative makes tremendous sense. Children are the poorest demographic in America—so, pediatrics and anti-poverty policy should go hand in hand.
As Larry Aber asserted during the TCF conference, pediatrics can also be used as a platform to advise families in poverty on what safety net benefits they are eligible for.
This would help increase the take-up rate, such as for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which had an estimated 25 percent incomplete take-up in 2009, resulting in 6.7 million non-claimants.
Merely making the information about benefits more salient through pediatricians could boost participation.
This is just the beginning of what a new, reinvisioned pediatric care can encompass.