Public health policy should not be a political bargaining chip

July 10, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health 

By Theodore M. Mazer, M.D., CMA President

Public health should be a nonpartisan issue – off limits to corporate greed and free from political rhetoric. This was true of the recent discussion on the health impacts of separating children from their families in the ongoing immigration debate. And it is certainly true regarding the recent New York Times report alleging that the Trump administration used political threats against Ecuador over a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution encouraging breastfeeding around the world.

Peer-reviewed studies confirm the significant health benefits of breastfeeding infants, which include promoting infant health and development and reducing obesity. The California Medical Association (CMA) strongly supports the evidence-based health benefits of breastfeeding, and opposes any efforts to reduce that message at home or abroad. Decades of research result in no other possible conclusion. At the same time, CMA supports alternatives to breastfeeding in circumstances where breastfeeding is not an available option for specific reasons, such as the health of the child or mother, malnutrition and poverty.

There are also reports that U.S. pressure last month, at the same WHO meeting, resulted in the removal of a recommendation from the WHO Independent High-Level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases favoring taxation of sugary beverages as one measure to reduce premature deaths. Numerous studies confirm that the overconsumption of sugar-sweetened sodas leads to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and other negative health conditions.

Around the world, reasonable soda taxes have dramatically reduced consumption of sugary drinks and improved public health, especially among children. That is precisely why California’s leading health care organizations are sponsoring a 2020 ballot initiative in California to implement a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The health care community is rightly concerned at any attempt to politicize or weaponize health care issues for political gain, especially when blocking measures proven to benefit public or individual health.

Using health care as a political football rather than as a tool for improving wellness presents enormous challenges to implementing effective and scientifically based health care policies. There is no moral or scientific reason to oppose policies that encourage breastfeeding or decrease the overconsumption of sugary beverages.

The public must also be vigilant and stand up when health care decisions are being made for political rather than policy reasons, demanding that proven beneficial health measures be the foundation of government actions that impact each of us and our communities.



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