As the nation’s pediatricians gathered in San Francisco this weekend for the annual American Academy of Pediatrics national educational conference, their leader told them not to keep their mouths shut.
“We cannot keep quiet,” said Judith Paltry, MD, president of the AAP. “We see what children see. We hear what they are saying … Now is not a time for complacency.”
Although the thousands in an overflowing ballroom at the Moscone Convention Center can celebrate passage of the health care reform bill last spring for reaching one of the Academy’s chief goals of the past decades (universal access to care), Dr. Paltry said there are forces (she mentioned the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies specifically) that will try to undo the progress we have made.
Children, she said, get lost of the big debate. In part, that’s because spending for children is a tiny part of the federal health care budget. “Budget dust,” she said it has been referred to. In fact, she said over the past 40 years, the amount of the federal budget that goes to children’s issues has dropped from 20 percent to less than 10 percent. And UNICEF cites the United States as dead last in health and safety for kids among all countries in the world.
Children are counting on their pediatricians as their advocates she said. And while much of the week’s activities in San Francisco is focused on the latest and greatest research, technology and medical advances, Dr. Paltry said it would do doctors well to think like kids every now and then.
“Seek the wisdom of the ages,” she told her colleagues, “but continue to look at the world through the eyes of a child.”
What do children want? Education. Safety. Health. To be wanted and love. But there are things in society working against them:
- 50 percent of pregnancies are unwanted and while most are wonderful “surprises,” some result in dismal lives for unwanted children and parents.
- The percentage of pre-term births continues to rise.
- One in 50 children is homeless.
- 25 percent of 18 to 24 year olds have not graduated from high school; and in one state (Massachusetts) 43 percent of children in 3rd grade are not reading at the appropriate level.
Dr. Paltry applauded the pediatricians for progress that’s been made on some fronts, including teen smoking, which has dropped in half in the past 20 years. But in its place, a new threat to children’s health is obesity. She showed a videotaped message from First Lady Michelle Obama who said it was a simple word from her pediatrician who convinced her to try and bring a healthier diet to her family.
“Kids views are not complicated,” Dr. Paltry said. “When we look them in the eyes, we get a glimpse at their world … we have made progress … if we give (the children) a dance floor and just a little bit of opportunity, they will dance.”
Let’s cue the music. It’s up to us to give them that opportunity.