At last week's American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting its Governing Council adopted about a dozen new policies to guide the Association's advocacy activities. Over APHA's 140 year history, these resolutions have covered a variety of public health topics, from the 1950 policy supporting fluoridation of public water supplies, the 1960 policy supporting compulsory pasteurization of milk, the 1969 policy calling for American forces to be withdrawn from Vietnam, to the 1982 policy condemning the apartheid policy of the Government of the Republic of South Africa, and the 2009 policy opposing the use of hormone growth promoters in beef and dairy cattle production.
The policies adopted by APHA in 2012 are equally diverse. They include:
Ending military recruiting in elementary and secondary schools
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to allow U.S. military recruiters on their campuses and to provide the recruiters contact information on all students. The recruiters target 14 to 18 year olds for the “Future Soldier Program,” which encourages the youngsters to attend boot camp during the summer between their junior and senior years. (David Goodman wrote about military recruiters in high schools in a fall 2009 issue of Mother Jones.) The authors of the APHA policy resolution successfully argued that adolescents are unable to fully evaluate the consequences of making a choice to enter the military.
Among other things, the resolution calls on the General Accounting Office to conduct a follow-up on its 2006 investigation of recruiting irregularities; directs the Department of Education to provide guidance to parents on how to 'opt-out' of having their children's information given to the recruiters; and urges the Department of Defense to revise its recruiting manuals to prohibit predatory practices and require recruiters to fully disclose the full risks of military enlistment, including the likelihood of being sent to war.
Imposing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages
About two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, nearly 36 percent are obese, and among 2-19 year olds about 17 percent are obese. One contributor to the obesity problem are sugar-sweetened beverages which contribute 48 percent of added sugars to the diets of Americans. Among other things, the APHA resolutions expresses support for taxes imposed at the federal, state, or local level on sugar-sweetened beverages. The tax would raise the average price of sugar-sweetened beverages and reduce demand for them. It would also generate revenue for the taxing entity. A penny per ounce tax, for example, could raise nationwide over $13 billion annually.
Promoting health impact assessment to achieve health in all policies
When communities or federal agencies make decisions about transportation, housing, development or other projects, they are required to assess a variety of economic and environmental consequences. Very few municipalities, however, require decision makers to consider the impact of their policies or funding choices on a community's health. Proponents of health impact assessments (HIA), including now the APHA, are setting out to change that.
The new APHA policy urges the U.S. Congress to incorporate HIA principles and processes in policy, plan and program decisions, and to revise the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to incorporate stronger consideration of health impacts. It also calls on state and local legislatures to incorporate HIA in their decision-making, such as for transportation projects, and to provide funding to health departments for professional development on HIA.
Improving occupational and environmental health in the global electronics industry
The plight of workers at electronics factories in China and Korea recently made newspaper headlines. From explosions and long work hours, to exposure to toxic substances, hundreds of thousands of workers are employed in the electronics manufacturing industry and exposed to these hazards, but they have few rights to protect themselves. Among other things, the APHA resolution urges the manufacturers to provide workers and surrounding communities with information on chemicals in use and released in their plants, and to give workers access to exposure monitoring protocols and results, and medical records prepared and/or maintained by the manufacturers or their contractors. It also calls on the manufacturers and local governments to comply with the International Labour Organizations' conventions on child labor.
The International POPs (persistent organic pollutants) Elimination Network (IPEN) responded favorably to the resolution and added that manufacturers of electronics need to address the use of toxic chemical in the products in the design phase of their process, not after the fact.
Some of the other policy resolutions adopted by APHA at its 140th annual meeting include:
- Opposing the DHS-ICE “Secure Communities” program
- Incorporating occupational information in electronic health records
- Assessing the environmental and occupational health impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing of unconventional gas reserves
- Anticipating and addressing sources of pollution to preserve coastal watersheds, coastal waters, and human health
Full text of the new policies will be posted on the APHA website in the weeks ahead.
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I received a comment from Dragonslayer - Knight of the Sacred Order of Ruah concerning these APHA resolutions. He called them "anti-American." He suggested that policies that imposed taxes on cigarettes did not decrease demand. He said that fluoride causes "human intelligence to decrease in young adults. It also causes brittle bones and cancer." But because he used disrespecting words and phrases in his comment, I decided not to approve it.