Why I Paid Attention to This Year’s American Medical Association Conference

June 19, 2009

By Rochelle Davis, Founding Executive Director

This week, the American Medical Association (AMA) met in Chicago.  Normally this gathering of doctors from around the country wouldn’t grab my interest. This year, however, was different: two developments at the AMA caught my attention as important news for all of us who care about the environment and children’s health in school.

The first was President Obama’s address in which he acknowledged the important role that school food plays in health care reform. While speaking to the need for a greater focus on prevention, President Obama said that we must cut down “on all the junk food that is fueling an epidemic of obesity, putting far too many Americans, young and old, at greater risk of costly, chronic conditions.”  And while these lessons must be learned at home, we also “should work with local school districts to incorporate into their school lunch programs.” 

This recognition is especially important in the context of the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, an opportunity for the federal government to provide increased support for better school food across the country. (See HSC's press release to learn more.)

Then, the AMA passed a resolution supporting sustainable food systems. This resolution is based on a report [pdf] of the Council on Science and Public Health which notes that locally produced and organic foods “reduce the use of fuel, decrease the need for packaging and resultant waste disposal, preserve farmland . . . [and] the related reduced fuel emissions contribute to cleaner air and in turn, lower the incidence of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.”

The report sees industrial food production as a significant contributor to increased antibiotic resistance, climate change, and air and water pollution.  

We are also concerned about the food system here at HSC, primarily because changes in the food system have played a major part in our nation’s move away from wholesome nutritious meals and toward highly processed unhealthy food. This trend – both at school and outside of school – is a significant contributor to the epidemic of childhood obesity.  Whether your concern is climate change, antibiotic resistant or childhood obesity,  we can no longer separate the health of food from how it is produced. I applaud the AMA for recognizing this critical connection and helping raise awareness of the steps we can all take to help make our children – and our environment – healthier.