By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the temperature drops, public health officials say many families face a stark choice. Should they heat…or eat?

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Officials have adopted the term “energy insecure” to describe households that are taking drastic measures to keep utility bills affordable, keeping the heat off or so low that vulnerable household members, such as babies or the elderly, may suffer.

Dr. Dan Taylor says he sees the problem in his work with children at St. Christopher’s Hospital.

“If they’re shivering too much in the cold, they can’t grow as well, they can’t develop their brains as well,” says Taylor. “In the summer time, if they’re too hot, they sweat more than adults do. Your growing body just doesn’t handle it well at all.”

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Dr. Taylor says the problem can also cause chronic conditions in children to worsen.

“They’re more likely to have asthma attacks,” he says. “If a child has sickle cell, they’re more likely to have acute crises. If a child is a newborn, they’re more likely to even stop breathing.”

Low income families are eligible for help. PECO says it provides assistance to 140,000 customers, and PGW‘s Bill Montgomery says 105,000 of its customers receive help.

“They’re really targeted at making sure they have utility services,” Montgomery says.

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