Healthy business vs healthy people — how will this administration address the two?

Healthy business vs healthy people — how will this administration address the two?
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On Wednesday, Sept. 12, Nestlé sponsored a meeting between advocates for healthy nutrition (from director of nutrition policy at the Food Research Action Center, Geraldine Henchy  and Yael Lehman president and CEO of the Food Trust), politicians [Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.)] and, believe it or not, Brandon Lipps, administrator of Food and Nutrition Services in the Department of Agriculture. This event was hosted by The Hill at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum. 

A conference between representatives of groups advocating for better health and better diets and democratic representatives who are known advocates of improved access to health care as well as supporters of the Affordable Care Act, is always encouraging but there is nothing surprising about it. In contrast, the Brandon Lipps’ participation is amazing.


Participation of any senior Department of Agriculture official in a discussion with advocates for child health raises hope that maybe the health of our children — even though they are not big business or campaign donors — is of interest to this administration. This hope for some sort of cooperation between those whose primary goal is healthy business vs. healthy people quickly deflates when one considers the immense gap between talk and action by this administration regarding anything that is good for public health and for our children.

In September 2016, candidate Trump promised that his first budget would redirect $20 billion in federal funding to help poor children in low-performing public schools to enroll them at charter and private schools. Instead we got Education Secretary Betsy Devos. Secretary Devos has advocated for cuts in after-school and summer programs which mainly affect less affluent individuals who can’t afford private camps or after school “groups” and funding for community schools which mainly benefit children living in poverty, while promoting increased spending for voucher programs and programs to expand private schools and for-profit school ventures. There is of course little if any planning as to how to get those in the worst public school districts into these schools. The 20 billion dollars is at an unknown location.

Also during his campaign, candidate Trump promised that Americans will have “great health care at a fraction of the cost." Instead, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE recently proposed that the GOP platform include 7 billion dollars in health-care cuts from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), markedly reducing federal spending for poor children to offset the burgeoning federal deficit largely created by his administration and the tax breaks given to the wealthy. CHIP covers about 9 million children from low-income families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Many of these children are suffering from major debilitating illnesses but would qualify for Medicaid if only their parents would find a reason to be unable to work. Fortunately this proposal was not passed. Unfortunately the great inexpensive health care is still off the books.

Then there is Brandon Lipps’ boss. Agriculture secretary Perdue has consistently put the interests of business in supplying monotonous, calorically dense, less healthful foods to our schools over the children who are in them. Secretary Purdue along with Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) has campaigned to “make school meals great again” by removing every health (reduce salt, use fat-free milk and contain more whole grains) and educational (provide food calorie labels) benefit that had been enacted and shown to be effective under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Given the shortened tenure of any senior official who indicates any doubts regarding President Trump’s policies, it seems that Lipps may not last too long. He has met with “the other side."

To be sure, the Trump administration has not been inactive in health care. They managed to bring the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, a pro-business attempt to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, from proposal to congressional vote in just three months. Fortunately this bill also failed. Secretary Perdue did meet with school nutrition professionals at the School Nutrition Association Annual Meeting in September 2017 but all that came of that was an agreement that both organizations wanted to promote “the health and vitality of our young people." This vitality has so far remained stagnant.

There are also many campaign promises, such as building a giant Berlin Wall between the United States and Mexico at Mexico’s expense, that are better off unfulfilled. By and large though this administration is essentially indifferent to the health of those who can’t afford health care and is moving in a piecemeal manner by which effective health care benefits largely enacted during the Obama administration are cut without any improved replacement to give us the promised low cost excellent health insurance.

In 1733 Benjamin Franklin penned the adage “Great Talkers, Little Doers” under the pseudonym of a fictional stargazer named Richard Saunders. Despite many long-winded orations promising health and prosperity for all, what we are really getting seems to be improved health, education and wealth for only a few and stasis or worse for most.

Dr. Michael Rosenbaum is a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. He has spent over 25 years studying the obesity in children and adults.