Dear Governor Newsom:
As a parent to four children, you know the seeds for future health and success are sown early. Of course, that’s the premise behind your strong and very commendable commitment to universal early childhood education. We write now as health professionals to urge broader investment in food and water systems as well—investments to create even stronger foundations for the healthier, more sustainable future we want for California’s children and other citizens.
California’s food insecurity rate is nearly 12%. A quarter of our population suffers from obesity, 46% are prediabetic. These statistics represent a significant hurdle to your goal of creating an affordable, sustainable healthcare system for all. They also reflect an unacceptable reality for the source of most of the nation’s fresh produce and its largest, most innovative agricultural state. At the same time, California’s rural communities face rising challenges with extremes in weather, water scarcity, fire risk, increasing pollution and severe economic decline.
We believe a sustainable food systems and resource management approach―one that brings together public health, food and agriculture and economic development interests―offers great promise for your Administration to make progress on many fronts, with simultaneous benefits to the health of urban and rural families, children, farmers and farmworkers.(1) In particular, we urge:
SUPPORT EFFORTS TO CURB CONSUMPTION OF SUGARY BEVERAGES, AND TAX THEM TO RAISE FUNDS FOR DISEASE PREVENTION PROGRAMS. Currently, five bills in the Legislature would support improved nutrition by regulating or taxing soda. Your voice and signatures will be key to success on this package of bills.
SUPPORT CALIFORNIA FORWARD'S RURAL CALIFORNIA INITIATIVE. The delivery of effective telemedicine requires high speed internet. However, the latter would also enhance the educational and economic opportunities needed to improve the health of rural Californians. It may be time for a rural reinvestment initiative on which your Administration should lead.
SUPPORT INVESTMENTS IN BETTER FOOD FOR OUR SCHOOLKIDS. In many respects, California is among the state leaders in creating school food environments that are healthier. Yet it ranks 20th in the nation in rates of obesity among 10-17 year olds. We urge your support for several legislative proposals this year to improve school meals, including additional funding for organic food purchases.
PROTECT CHILDREN FROM TOXIC PESTICIDES. Your voice and signature on SB 458 could help protect all children, and especially farmworker children, as that legislation would end California’s use of chlorpyrifos, an especially nerve-toxic pesticide linked by robust science to harms in children including IQ loss, learning disabilities and ADHD.(2)
SAFE DRINKING WATER FOR ALL CALIFORNIA KIDS AND FAMILIES. Water is life, but for our children it's also imperative for growth and learning. Even though California law now requires all public K-12 schools be tested for lead (and other specific criteria) prior to July 1st, a big majority of public and private schools haven’t had water supplies tested as such.(3) Your Administration’s pressure via the Department of Education could accelerate compliance. In addition, we hope you will work vigorously to uphold the right of all Californians to safe and affordable drinking water. One means to deliver on that right could be SB 200, a bill backed by an unique alliance of agriculture, public health and environmental justice groups.
Based on your demonstrated interest in and action around healthy food systems, we believe we are justified in our faith that you will accelerate the momentum in this arena and thereby ensure a prosperous future for our kids. As medical professionals and parents, we look forward to your actions around the policies we list above. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael Martin, MD, MPH, MBABarb Sattler, RN, DrPHGwen Gleason-Rohrer, MD, San DiegoTara Scott, MD, Santa RosaHolly Scheider, MPH, BerkeleyAlvaro Garza, MD, MPH, ModestoAlison Megliola, RD, CDELinda Remy, PhDRichard Jackson, MD, MPH, Berkeley
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(1) See Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Livable Future. Food Systems and Public Health Program Areas. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/about/program_areas. Also, see “A Food Systems Approach to Healthy Food and Agricultural Policy” in Health Affairs, 34(11), 1908-1915. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0926. (2) The scientific studies, too numerous to list, are summarized in Singla V. Citing Harms to Kids, Leading Scientists and Healthcare Professionals Call for Ban on Dangerous Pesticide. Retrieved March 12, 2019 from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/veena-singla/citing-harms-kids-leading-scientists-and-healthcare-professionals-call-ban.(3) See https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/leadsamplinginschools.html.