This administration has contempt for public health

This administration has contempt for public health
© Getty

The Trump administration may have leaks (and leakers) in its cross-hairs, but the fact is that leaked documents continue to fill the information void left by an administration as uncommitted to transparency as any in living memory. How else would we know about the pressure the president put on James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, or Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE Jr.’s enthusiasm for Russian dirt on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump, Biden set for tight battle in Florida We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Poll shows Biden with 6-point edge on Trump in Florida MORE?

In that by-now-hallowed tradition comes the latest White House leak, this out of the Domestic Policy Council, which gives a pretty good overview of the Trump regulatory agenda. Its boundless ambition is matched only by its craven subservience to longstanding corporate goals and its overweening contempt for the public’s health.

I’ll leave it to others to comment on the assaults on unions and federal workers, for example, and confine myself to just those related to public health.


For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Trump White House is big on fighting mosquitoes and ticks and other communicable diseases. But heart disease and cancer? Here the leaked memo recommends that the agency, “shift money away from chronic diseases (esp playgrounds/nutritional nannying) state grant programs and put it in the HIV/Hep/TB/STI division.” I’m all for addressing those infections, but at the expense of chronic diseases that actually kill far more Americans?

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what the CDC says on its own website:

  • “Chronic diseases are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year, and treating people with chronic diseases accounts for most of our nation’s health care costs.”
  • “As of 2012, about half of all adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions. One in four adults had two or more chronic health conditions.”
  • “Eighty-six percent of the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions. These costs can be reduced.”

Maybe the Trump administration is in possession of alternative facts.

In short, the Trump White House is calling for the nation’s premier public health agency to shortchange the main risks to our health, and, in so doing, to drive up the health care costs it professes to be concerned about. Not to mention, these health care costs are already making it difficult for government at the federal, state and local levels to address other needs such as education, worker training, roads, bridges, clean water and clean air.

And as if that were not enough, the leaked White House memo goes on to call for cutting CDC resources for “environmental health, injury prevention (except opioids work), Occupational health.”

These are all favorite targets of business lobbyists willing to advance their bottom lines at the expense of the public’s health. Lead poisoning from paints in inner city homes? Mercury spewing from smokestacks? Better not to study them, lest businesses be called upon to abate them.

Injury prevention seems like an unlikely target—injuries exact a particular cost among the young— until one realizes that this is where the CDC would conduct research on motor vehicle crashes and firearms.

Perhaps the leaked memo’s biggest head-scratcher is this: “Childhood obesity: this is a priority of the Secretary for inexplicable reasons … Not a priority of this administration.”

The CDC recently reported an all-time high prevalence of obesity for youth aged 2 to 19: 18.5 percent in 2015-2016, compared to 13.9 percent in 1999-2000. Why does this matter? Because obesity contributes to diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Whatever else may be said of high-flying former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceDNC chair says app used in Iowa won't be used in other primary states Hillicon Valley: Iowa chaos highlights misinformation threat | Officials blame app for delayed results | Company offers 'regret' | Nevada officials drop plans to use app | Ohio ramps up election security Company behind Iowa Democratic caucus app expresses 'regret' MORE, at least his focus on childhood obesity was on the money. 

Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, is the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, and sound science