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:

Increasing access to healthier food options for underserved communities

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, economically disadvantaged people have a higher prevalence of diabetes and hypertension compared with the highest-income population. In 2011, food banks and pantries served more than 2 billion pounds of food to more than 25 million food-insecure Americans. With many Americans relying on food banks, pantries, and other assistance programs as their major food source, the AMA adopted policies this week aimed at improving access to healthful food options offered through programs for underserved communities.

Under new policy, the AMA will promote sustainable sourcing of healthier food options for food banks and food pantries, and support efforts to disseminate user-friendly resources and educational materials to help promote healthy eating among food banks and food pantries. New policy also calls on the federal government to improve access to healthful foods for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by incentivizing healthful foods and disincentivizing or eliminating unhealthful foods. The policy also calls for the same healthful food options available through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to be available through SNAP.

“We know that food-insecure individuals often face great difficulty meeting the recommended daily amount of certain vital nutrients, putting them at significantly higher risk for nutritional deficits and associated negative health consequences,” said AMA Board member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., MBA. “We must do everything we can to make sure that all Americans have access to nutritious foods and resources to help them make healthy food choices.”

Supporting increased outdoor activity to reduce nearsightedness in children

Recent studies show that myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is increasing in children worldwide and could be linked to a decrease in the amount of time children spend outdoors. To help prevent nearsightedness in children and adolescents, the AMA adopted policy this week supporting efforts aimed at encouraging children to spend more time participating in outdoor activities and other activities that have been shown to reduce the onset of nearsightedness in children.

“We know that children today spend an extraordinary amount of time staring at electronic screens, which limits their outdoor activity and adversely affects their eyesight,” said AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, M.D. “That is why we are supporting efforts to encourage children to unplug and head outside.”

Continuing support of vaccine policy in the United States

Each year vaccines prevent an estimated 2.5 million deaths among children under age 5, according to the World Health Organization. The AMA adopted policy this week continuing its efforts to promote public understanding and confidence in the safety of vaccines in order to prevent resurgence in vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths. The new policy specifically supports the rigorous scientific process undertaken by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and its development of recommended immunization schedules for the nation. The policy also recognizes the substantial body of scientific evidence that has disproven a link between vaccines and autism.

“The AMA fully supports the overwhelming body of evidence and rigorous scientific process used by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices which demonstrate vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect the health of the public. We are deeply concerned that creating a new federal commission on vaccine safety to study the already disproven association between autism and vaccines would cause unnecessary confusion and adversely impact parental decision-making and immunization practices. The United States has a long-standing system for ensuring the ongoing development, safety, and efficacy of vaccines,” said AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, M.D. “The AMA will continue its work to promote public understanding and confidence in the use of vaccines in order to prevent resurgence in vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths.”

Preventing continued exposure to lead through required environmental testing of homes and child care facilities

More than a year after the devastating water crisis in Flint, Mich., communities continue to be hyper-aware of the dangers of lead. Efforts to remove lead from the nation’s water supply and other sources are ongoing. The AMA adopted policy this week aimed at protecting children from further exposure to lead, and its associated adverse physical and mental health consequences. The new policy calls for requiring a complete environmental assessment, including water testing, of residential homes and child care facilities when a child who resides at or frequents these buildings has a confirmed elevated blood lead level.

“We know there is no safe level of lead exposure, yet children living in the U.S. continue to be exposed to unsafe levels of lead in their homes and in the water they drink. In fact, 20 percent of the lead that is ingested comes from the drinking water flowing through lead plumbing in communities across the nation,” said AMA Board member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., MBA. “For pregnant women and children, the dangers of lead exposure are particularly severe. That is why we support changes to laws that would require mandatory environmental assessments of homes and childcare facilities, including testing the water supply, when cases of child lead poisoning have been confirmed.”

The policy adopted this week builds on extensive existing AMA policy regarding lead poisoning, safe drinking water, and water contamination.

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About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.