Jaclyn Pederson, CEO of Phoenix-based Feeding Matters, is on a mission to help parents navigate what can be a stressful part of raising young kids: meal time.
Having a baby or young child who isn’t getting enough nutrition can be a difficult problem for families to overcome — and one without a simple resolution.
Feeding Matters is the first organization in the world uniting families, health care professionals and the community to improve the system of care for children with pediatric feeding disorder.
Pederson says it has long been an issue, but only recently recognized as an official diagnosis.
“We continued to face barriers to what we were trying to get people to understand about feeding. We called it feeding struggles, feeding problems, feeding disorders and it was hard for people to understand how impactful and devastating this was for families,” Pederson said. “We felt like we need to name this and put a stake in the ground to say, ‘No this is a standalone condition that’s worth paying attention to.’”
Since they identified Pediatric Feeding Disorder, Pederson says the topic has grown as parents who were once falsely blamed now can have support with what their child is going through.
According to Feeding Matters, conservative estimates show the disorder affects more than 1 in 37 children under the age of 5 within the United States each year.
A single swallow requires the use of 26 muscles and six cranial nerves working in perfect harmony to move food and liquid through the body. When one or more pieces of the feeding puzzle are missing, out of order or unclear, infants and children can have difficulty eating and drinking.
“It feels like we are pioneering this issue and changing the world at the same time. It’s something Arizona should be really proud of,” Pederson said.
On top of being a boss in the office, Pederson is busy at home — she is a wife and has two young children, which provided her with her own experiences of feeding infants.
“That made me feel even closer to this mission and what our families are going through,” Pederson said.
We sit down with Pederson to learn more about her — both personally and professionally.
• Tell us a little bit about yourself: My role as CEO is to think about where Feeding • Matters is headed. I take it very seriously and I feel like we have a huge responsibility to our families to make sure that we are supporting them, getting them the best resources and information that we can but also educating professionals in this space because there’s not a lot of education on pediatric feeding.
I have been with Feeding Matters for 10 years, coming up actually in a few days. I started with the organization as our volunteer coordinator and grant writer — and I have just fallen in love with the mission of the organization. I started when I was a single person, who had no idea what feeding issues were ... I found a huge passion within myself to advocate for children with PFD and their families.
• How did you get into your career? My career trajectory has been I went to school for nonprofit leadership and management — I’ve always been passionate about nonprofits. I then was really passionate about making a difference, so I went to grad school for health care innovation because I was interested in, you know, a lot of nonprofits are helping one individual or a community of individuals and while that remains important in the sector, I was really interested in systems and how do we change systems so that people who are experiencing hardship don’t need to, or it doesn’t need to be as hard. I’ve been really focused on what does system practice look like, or health care innovation? I think finding Feeding Matters 10 years ago it was amazing because it married my love of making a difference and working in the nonprofit sector with thinking about the health care system differently.
• May was a big month for Feeding Matters. Can you tell me about the importance of having the governor’s attention on Pediatric Feeding Disorder? We’re incredibly grateful to Gov. (Katie) Hobbs and her team on all that they are doing to shine a light on an issue that needs that attention. Proclaiming PFD Awareness Month in Arizona this year, our fifth year of PFD Awareness Month, is a huge accomplishment. Just even them inviting us to receive the proclamation in person was an incredible honor and shows their commitment to children and families.
• I read online in a past interview that you compared how people view Pediatric Feeding Disorder to how people viewed Autism 40 years ago — can you explain that? The two diagnosis (autism and pediatric feeding disorder) follow a similar historic path, and are complex conditions. That’s where there are similarities. Autism, 40 years ago, no one knew what it was. Now when you say autism, people have a very clear idea. It is a household name. For us, that is something that we envision — that we can say pediatric feeding disorder, PFD, and someone who is expecting their first child knows what that condition is and has it on their mind as they’re feeding their newborn if they are worried about that.
• Who is your inspiration and why? I’m inspired by so many powerful women leaders in all that they can accomplish and what they can bring to the world. I think personally for me, I came from a mom who was always committed to service, and my predecessor Chris Linn, who was the former CEO of Feeding Matters, was really passionate about servant leadership. I think that has stuck with me all along.
From a celebrity status type of thing, I really admire Michelle Obama and how she approaches problems. And she’s got such a commitment to healthy development and living for children that it ties so well into what we’re passionate about too.
• What’s your favorite local restaurant and what would you recommend off the menu? The creamy pesto linguine at Christo’s, it’s an Italian restaurant, on Seventh Street and Maryland.
• What do you do in your down time? I love hanging out with my kids and my family, my husband Kirby. My son’s names are Charlie and George. It’s been fun because now that Charlie is 3.5, he’s interactive and talking more. I’m a huge board game person and sports person. We like to go see things and do things as a family. Honestly sometimes you need to be a homebody, too. I think that’s something we can take as a silver lining from the pandemic, it’s OK to be home sometimes too. I’d say we try to do a balance of fun activities and some at home time with each other.
• What did you last binge-watch? We just finished “West Wing,” but I’m in the middle of “Succession” right now. I’m behind though, so I’m in group chats where I’m like “you can’t talk about it” because I’m a couple episodes behind!