Public Health: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Kids Eating Lunch in a School Cafeteria

Today, please  join Debra Waldoks for our third Guest Post in the series “One Thing I’d Change in 2015″ — DrGreene Team

Public Health professionals emphasize the prevention of harm above treating harmful effects after harm occurs. But upon whom is this public health obligation? Parents? Politicians? Society? Doctors?

Parents cannot usually do all the necessary research on their own about which consumer products and foods are safe for children and at what ages. Sometimes parents do have knowledge that can prevent future harm, but they simply don’t have the manpower or organization to transform regulations, policies, and laws that would benefit health on a societal level; just getting school lunches to a healthier place takes more time and effort than most parents can spare. Even when individuals or parents are less ambitious and simply want to make certain changes in their own life or their family’s life, there are often external consumer influences and marketplace availability issues that limit an individual’s ability to achieve these changes. For instance, parents who attempt to feed their children healthy food are up against regular bombardments of advertisements geared towards children making the unhealthy food seem awfully tempting.

The Change I’d Like to See in 2015

In 2015, I would love to see more politicians, regulators, and legislators considering public health their job, their social justice obligation. There is clearly a need for politicians to step in, to set standards for food and consumer products, to set limits on advertising to children, to fund research that fosters a deeper understanding of the health effects of chemicals instead of relying on a post-consumer reactions, to ensure that medical schools are teaching environmental medicine, and to set up evaluations ensuring that these programs are enforced. This would also serve as an example to developing countries, which will soon see the health problems that industrialized countries now face.

Here are some examples that public officials on all levels can enact that would assist public health efforts and contribute to reigning in rising medical costs:

  1. Limit food advertising to children, including television ads, YouTube ads, bill board ads, children’s magazines ads, and cartoon characters on food items. This would include any item made with refined sugar, white flour, potato flour, or soy protein. I might even go so far as to recommend they limit the new development of addictive junk-food (food scientists are regularly hired as “taste specialists” with this in mind) and limit the number of candy stores per neighborhood/or per 5,000 people.
  2. Ban chemicals that are known to be estrogen disruptors in baby wipes, baby moisturizers, children’s soaps and shampoos, deodorants for teenagers, and in cleaning products used in households and schools.
  3. Limit the allowance of sugar in schools and outlaw the distribution of sugar directly to students from school staff as “rewards.”
  4. Mandate nutrition and breastfeeding education at the high-school level.
  5. Provide doctors with alternative educational material that is not produced solely by the pharmaceutical industry, and which is peer-reviewed. One example could be a decision making tool for pediatric ADHD including questions regarding lab tests for iron, sleep questionnaire for the parents, nutrition checklists, and a prescription for omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Ensure a set curriculum for medical and nursing school that would include education on environmental toxins, estrogen disruptors, current nutrition protocols, etc…

I think we have gotten to the point where the food industry has become so perverse, without any thought about consumer health, where doctors report that most of their post-medical school education comes from pharmaceutical representatives, and where parents can no longer shield their children from the harmful effects of estrogen disruptors or the addictive qualities of sugar. It is for this reason that I think parents cannot fight this alone, nutritionists can’t fight this alone, and health activists can’t fight this alone. My wish for 2015 is that politicians, regulators, legislators and public officials will realize the power they have been granted to alter the course of chronic health this year. Happy New Years!

If you are still not convinced that individuals can’t go it alone in the public health realm, read this fascinating article by Michael Moss about how the food industry develops their products and tell me if you think they are interested in anything other than sales, and how regulations could have prevented the explosion of processed, nutrient-void, addictive food.

Debra Waldoks

Debra Waldoks is a US Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health, and additional training in Functional Nutrition. She has a private practice in Israel and New York. Her nutrition specialties include perinatal nutrition, Fertility & PCOS, pediatric nutrition, and breastfeeding.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. Casey

    Great post and thank you for making the case for setting limits on advertising to children. This is an issue that doesn’t get enough attention and it’s long past time to take action. See my guest post for Dr. Greene on Dec 29th for more ways to help make this happen in 2015.


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