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'I look forward to the day when we have an administration that considers, and is guided by, public health interests and the well-being of children.'

Dr. Jimmy UngerIt feels like my patients are helpless victims of the Trump administration's penchant for prioritizing special interests over children's health.

Recent headlines illustrate how decisions made in Washington, D.C., impact the kids I see in my Portland pediatric practice.

("Trump targets Michelle Obama school nutrition guidelines on her birthday," The New York Times, Jan. 17): In an apparent response to the junk food and potato industries, the USDA is revising an Obama administration policy such that federal school meal recipients will now have more access to burgers, fries and pizza while fruit and vegetables become less accessible.

About one-third of my patients are overweight or obese. Most of them receive federal school lunches — many receive both lunch and breakfast. My patients of low socioeconomic status are nobly trying to eat healthfully on limited budgets. I frequently hear statements like: "We've made changes at home. The problem's at school: she gets pizza and fries there every day."

Thanks to this new proposal, kids will face increasing health risks while industry executives, whose bottom line relies on kids eating junk food, can breathe a sigh of relief.

("Supreme Court allows Trump administration to proceed with 'wealth test' rules for immigrants," Washington Post, Jan. 27) As families awaited this Supreme Court ruling, I have seen the "chilling effect" suffered by Portland Latino families trapped between the dual threats of deportation and losing federal assistance. The court's ruling means that any applicants for green cards or visas who received federal assistance in the past could be denied for that reason.

I recently saw an 8-year-old girl, whom I'll call Maria (not her real name) for a checkup. Her embarrassed mother revealed that she was facing food insecurity and difficulties with paying rent and utility bills. Mom declined the financial assistance to which she was entitled. The decision to apply for "food stamps" might risk deportation. Hunger/homelessness or threat of deportation — not much of a choice.

("Teens find a big loophole in new flavored vaping ban," The New York Times, Jan. 31): The administration announced its intention to ban flavored vaping products to which teens are becoming addicted in epidemic proportions. After a meeting with vaping industry executives, the administration walked back and gutted its own regulation by exempting disposable devices.

Industry executives can celebrate as they stand to profit from the epidemic of youth nicotine addiction. My teen patients will lose no time in finding this loophole as they replace Juuls with disposable devices.

Children have emerged as the losers in other policy decisions: the failed promise of gun violence-prevention legislation, the deregulation of clean air/water policy, immigration policy resulting in family separation, the rescinding of the ban on chlorpyrifos (a widely used, highly toxic pesticide), and inaction on climate change — to name only a few.

There is a common theme: Special interest groups and industry (firearms industry, anti-immigrant groups, pesticide industry, junk food/potato industry, large industrial polluters, and vaping/tobacco industry) are pitted against children. Kids, who can neither vote nor give campaign contributions, always come up short.

As a dad, a grandfather and a pediatrician, I believe children's interests are "special," too.

I look forward to the day when we have an administration that considers, and is guided by, public health interests and the well-being of children.

Dr. Jimmy Unger is a father, grandfather and pediatrician practicing in Portland's Rockwood neighborhood.


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