CHICAGO — The American Medical Association (AMA), the premier national physician organization in the country, voted this week to adopt new policies aimed at improving the health of the nation. The new policies were approved during the voting session of the AMA’s Annual Meeting.

The policies adopted by the House of Delegates include:

Preventing further spread of vector-borne illness

With an increasing number of people in the U.S. becoming ill from mosquito, tick and flea bites — known as vector-borne diseases, the AMA adopted policy aimed at addressing this emerging health care concern. According to a May 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of vector-borne disease tripled across the country between 2004 and 2016, and nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks were discovered during this same time period.

However, despite increases in vector-borne disease, the CDC reports that more than 80 percent of the nation’s vector control organizations lack the resources they need to prevent and control these diseases, and cites the need for a strong national infrastructure that includes comprehensive vector programs. Under the new policy, the AMA will advocate for local, state and national research, education, reporting and tracking on vector-borne diseases.

“It has become clear that our country is unprepared to properly control mosquitoes, ticks and other sources of vector-borne disease that are causing more and more people to become ill,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A. “We must ensure that local health departments and other vector control organizations are equipped with the resources necessary to prevent and control vector-borne diseases and protect our citizens from illness.”

Opposing racial housing segregation policies to reduce health disparities

Epidemiologic studies have linked racial housing segregation to adverse health outcomes, including increased rates of infant mortality, obesity, hypertension, asthma, lung cancer, mental health stressors, and psychiatric disorders. To help reduce health disparities amplified by segregation of ethnic or racial minority communities, the AMA adopted policy this week opposing policies that further enable racial housing segregation.

Under the new policy, the AMA will also advocate for continued federal funding of publicly accessible geospatial data on community racial and economic disparities and disparities in access to affordable housing, employment, education and health care — which includes the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing tool. Geographic Information Systems data has been shown to be an effective way for public health researchers to illuminate and act on health disparities by using the tool to help co-locate demographic and mapping data, including housing segregation, with health outcomes. For instance, this type of mapping data was used after the Flint water crisis to identify the disproportionate impact of lead exposure on African American neighborhoods.

“It is critical that researchers and the public have access to geospatial data on racial segregation that persists in many communities across the country. We urge the federal government to continue funding the collection and maintenance of this publicly available data that will be imperative to improving health outcomes in minority communities,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A. “The AMA remains committed to eliminating health disparities in this country in order to achieve health equity and will continue to push for measures that improve the health of the nation.”

Preventing targeted marketing of unhealthy foods to youth to decrease health disparities

A 2006 report by the National Academy of Medicine, formerly known as the Institute of Medicine, found that food and beverage marketing targeted to youth puts children’s long-term health at risk through the promotion of food products that are low in nutritional value and high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. To help address the negative health consequences associated with food advertising to youth, especially among vulnerable populations, the AMA adopted policy in support of legislation that limits targeted marketing of products that do not meet nutritional standards as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Research has also shown that food companies disproportionally target their advertising for junk food towards African American and Hispanic youth — with one report finding that African American children and teens in particular are exposed to 70 percent more food-related TV advertising than their white peers, and view twice as many TV ads for candy, sugary drinks, and snacks, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“Children are constantly exposed to advertising for foods and beverages that are unhealthy and low in nutritional value, which can lead to increased consumption of these foods — putting them at higher risk for obesity and diet-related diseases,” said AMA Board Member Ryan J. Ribeira, M.D., M.P.H. “By limiting food ads targeted to children and teens, we will help reduce the amount of fast food and sugary beverages that they consume and ultimately improve health outcomes.”

Standardizing food labels to prevent food waste

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food waste in the U.S. is estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply — representing approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food wasted in 2010 alone. To help prevent further food waste, the AMA adopted policy this week to support the federal standardization of date labels on food and beverage products to ensure that the labels address consumer safety concerns. The policy aims to help consumers differentiate between when a food is no longer safe to eat versus the manufacturer’s recommendation for when the food surpasses peak quality.

“The food wasted each day not only has a lasting negative impact on our environment, but also diverts foods away from people in need. By having one standardized expiration date label on all foods that indicates the date when a food is no longer safe to consume, our country will be able to cut down the amount of wasted food and ensure more people have access to nutritious foods,” said AMA Board Member Ryan J. Ribeira, M.D., M.P.H.

Supporting inclusive and culturally competent sex education

The AMA furthered its policies this week to support sex education that is inclusive of more populations of people. This includes encouraging schools to provide culturally competent materials for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, or non-native speakers of the English language.

“Comprehensive, evidence-based sex education helps promote healthy sexual relationships, lower rates of teenage pregnancy and reduce risky sexual behavior. Culturally competent sex education could reduce disparities in teenage pregnancy and HIV diagnosis rates — both of which are high in the Latino community,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A.

The AMA also updated its current policy to encourage all schools to offer LGBTQ sex education alongside heterosexual sex education.

“Inclusive sex education helps increase awareness, dispel myths and break down stereotypes without judgment or stigma,” said Dr. Edwards. “Doing so creates a space for formal and honest discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Rape and sexual abuse on college campuses

As the incidence of campus sexual assault plagues institutions of higher education across the country, the AMA adopted policy to address the issues of rape, sexual abuse and physical abuse on college campuses.

“These issues are increasingly prevalent on campuses across the nation and require immediate attention,” said AMA Board Chair Gerald E. Harmon, M.D. “The ramifications of rape, sexual abuse and/or physical abuse can be severe, both physically and psychologically. The majority of cases go unreported, unfortunately, and the AMA will work with stakeholders, including state medical societies, to address these issues.”

Efforts to alleviate chronic homelessness

More than 550,000 people experience homelessness in the U.S. on a single night, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress — with most staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs and approximately 35 percent staying in unsheltered locations. In an effort to alleviate chronic homelessness throughout the country, the AMA expanded its policy in recognition that stable, affordable housing as a first priority — without mandated therapy or service compliance — is an effective way to improve housing stability and quality of life among people who are chronically homeless.

“It is important that we take steps to improve the health and well-being of people who are facing chronic homelessness, and focusing on housing first may help do that,” said AMA Board Member Ryan J. Ribeira, M.D., M.P.H.

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