Doctors press politicians on child health priorities
Pediatricians meeting in Hawaii take part in a conference that draws their top leaders
Politicians love kissing babies and have passed a law called No Child Left Behind, but all too many children are left with inadequate health care, top U.S. pediatricians meeting in Honolulu charged last week.
The doctors insisted that national and state candidates for election this year make health care of children and adolescents a priority.
About 18 percent of the country's 13.5 million children live in poverty, said Dr. Phyllis A. Dennery, president of the Society for Pediatric Research. A childhood in poverty can have lifelong consequences with related physical and socioeconomic issues, she said.
Dr. William W. Hay, president of the American Pediatric Society, said, "Unfortunately, children and their research needs are being left behind where the current president says no child should be."
Seven pediatric society presidents and other pediatric leaders held a public policy symposium during a joint meeting last week of the Pediatric Academic Societies and Asian Society for Pediatric Research at the Hawaii Convention Center.
The delegates are drafting "A National Agenda for America's Children and Adolescents" to be presented to Republican and Democratic party platform committees for use by presidential and congressional candidates seeking election this year.
"Politicians love babies, so it should be an easy message for us to provide," said Dr. Myron Genel, chairman of the Public Policy Council, as slides were shown of politicians holding babies.
Genel, with Yale University School of Medicine, moderated the interactive session with Dr. Mary Anne McCaffree, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Federal Government Affairs.
It was the first time all of America's pediatric society presidents were at the conference at the same time addressing the same issue, Genel said.
Dennery, with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said about 24 percent of children living in poverty are black, 20 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.
She also described geographic differences for children in poverty, from 5.5 percent in New Hampshire to almost 20 percent in Mississippi.
She said poverty has far-reaching implications for the United States and the work force.
Children in a poor environment do worse in school, have significant learning disabilities, a higher dropout rate, increased functional illiteracy and physical issues, she said. "There is a significant impact on obesity."
People who begin in a disadvantaged environment "go on to further disadvantages throughout life," Dennery emphasized.
Hay, with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, emphasized the importance of research, saying: "It is a myth that children are free of disease. ... Research into causes, prevention and treatment of disease ought to begin early in life.
"It is imperative that our leaders put pediatric research on the national agenda," Hay said, pointing out there has been no increase in research funding in 35 years, and the National Institutes of Health budget is "now in negative territory."