Vote for health

I would like to offer the following prescription to all parents: Vote, and let your children see you do it. Voting is a critical part of health. The people you elect, and the laws they make and enforce, matter.   

Many laws directly impact the health of children.  Take, for example, the Affordable Care Act, with its guarantee of coverage regardless of pre-existing chronic illnesses, to the Children’s Health Insurance Program which puts good care within reach for millions of children.  If your child has asthma or diabetes, laws that give you access to doctors’ visits and medication can make the difference between a soundly sleeping child and midnight trips to the Emergency Room.  If your child has ADHD, access to medical care can make the difference between achievement in school, and expulsion.  

In Pediatrics, we talk about the social determinants of health, things like having enough food every day, safe place to live, and heat in the winter.  Without these things, people get sick.  Lots of time, it’s laws that determine the determinants of health. For example, tax cuts that enrich the rich undercut the health of communities and the children who live in them.  They lead to poorer schools, with less funding for healthy food and activities, and teachers who can’t afford to live on their salaries.  (Money matters: many educationally advanced countries pay their teachers much better than we do in the US). By electing politicians who understand these connections, you’re making your children healthier in a powerful way. 

There’s more: By voting, you take control your life.  The opposite of taking control is helplessness and hopelessness, the belief that what you want or need makes no difference. People who believe that they’re powerless tend to become passive; and the more passive they are, the more truly powerless they become.  Parents who feel this way sometimes – without meaning to -- transmit these self-defeating attitudes to their children.  After all, children watch their parents all the time. 

What can you do about this? Take action! Talk about the election with your children. Go to the polls with them, either on election day or for early voting (or, if you’re voting by mail, let them see you fill in your ballot). Talk with your family members, your neighbors and the people you work with, and urge them to vote, too.  Convince them that your candidates are the best.

Your candidates might win. But even if they don’t, your children will. When they see you taking action, asserting your power, they will come to believe that they can be powerful, too.  Parents are always telling their children to stand up for themselves, speak out, make their voices heard. These lessons are best taught by example.  Take it from a doctor: Voting is healthy, in so many ways.

Robert Needlman, M.D.