Jerry Eichner, MD, FAAP
The AAP Advocacy Conference returned live this year after a four-year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic. What was originally the Legislative Conference became the Advocacy Conference a few years ago to include other forms of advocacy besides legislation. There were over 300 physicians and trainees at the conference representing most of the AAP chapters, leading to visits to offices of almost all the US Senators and a large proportion of Representatives.
The prime focus each year is one of the priorities the AAP supports in the current Congress. The list of priorities includes access to health care, vaccines, gun violence, mental health, pandemic preparedness, nutrition, child welfare, paid leave, and global health. This year the focus was on children and the media, specifically protecting young people online. The conference includes plenary sessions on practical politics by Mark del Monte, JD, AAP CEO; pediatricians in government by Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, Maternal and Child Health Bureau; Meg Sullivan, MD, MPH, FAAP, Counselor to the Secretary of HHS; Elizabeth Cox, MD, MPH, FAAP, Health Policy Fellow, US Senate HELP Committee; and CDR Shaanan Meyerstein, MD, MPH, FAAP, Office of Refugee Resettlement, HHS; and ADM Rachel Levine, MD, FAAP, Assistant Secretary for Health, HHS. They all shared their experiences working in government and their journey from clinical pediatrics to their current roles and what pediatricians can contribute to child health in government.
We also heard from the now two pediatricians in Congress: Rep. Kim Schrier, MD,FAAP from Washington’s 8th District and Rep. Yadira Caraveo, MD,FAAP, from Colorado. They shared their journeys from clinical practice to the legislature and what pediatricians can contribute to the health of children and the country in elected office.
There were several workshops on the priorities of mental health, immunizations, nutrition, gun violence (unfortunately coinciding with the mass school shooting in Tennessee), gender-affirming care, health care access and of course on this year’s focus, children and media. We most importantly discussed the vulnerability of children and teens due to their not yet mature critical thinking skills, decision making, and impulse control. And we heard how media companies developed a digital environment not aligned with kid’s needs and developmental levels to collect and use data and algorithms to target marketing and manipulate user experience on social media. This leads to exposure to information not intended for kids, disinformation and misinformation, and inappropriate content from influencers and advertisers. This has resulted in several consequences, including cyberbullying, eating disorders from exacerbating poor body image, poor sleep, depression, exacerbation of anxiety and depression, lack of interest in other, healthier activities, among others.
We learned how to be effective advocates and prepared for our visits to the offices of our Senators and Representatives on the final day of the Conference. Representing the Washington Chapter were Ken Gow, MD, FACS, FAAP; Lilian McKinley, MD; Hannibal Person, MD, FAAP; and myself. We visited the offices of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Representative Pramila Jayapal from Washington’s 7th District. We spoke to their staff on the current state of children and teens in the online world and the importance of protecting young people online. We relayed what we learned in the workshops and asked for them to support two new, bipartisan bills designed to protect kids: The Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act and The Kids Online Safety Act. The AAP has created the Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The medical directors are two experts in the field of youth development and the media: Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, MSEd, FAAP and Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP. You will hear more from them in the future. As always the AAP provides programs to educate pediatricians on the needs of children and youth and how we can use that information to help our patients and the public on the health issues of importance to us all.
Resource: Media and Children (aap.org)