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Deirdre Imus Headshot

Greening Your Thinking: Setting Priorities

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If there's one thing that both parties can agree on, protecting our children should be one of our nation's, and our next president's, highest priorities. Republicans, Democrats and Independents all want the best for America's children. But children need to be protected from more than terrorist attacks, neglect, abuse and online predators. Children also need to be protected from environmental toxins that are causing epidemic levels of diseases and disorders and from the elected officials who would "sell out" our children for the conflicting priorities of major corporations.

As seen with the recent major toy recalls, whenever disaster strikes, there's usually a paper trail of warnings predicting the ominous event. Global warming, Bin Laden, Katrina, Vioxx, a collapsed bridge in Minnesota...time and time again we find catastrophes inevitably could have been prevented had our leaders taken the warnings seriously.

Immediately following each disaster, a chorus line of public officials, particularly those running for higher office, rush to express condolences and pledges to investigate the events leading up to the tragedy. Promises, promises...but not much comfort to the victims of the warnings ignored.

There's no question the Iraq war, homeland security and immigration are important issues that need to be discussed and debated. But far too often competing priorities become the convenient excuse for nothing more than complacency on other issues that are also important to voters.

The World Health Organization states over 80 percent of major diseases are significantly affected by environmental exposures. This means many diseases could be prevented.

Like other catastrophes, warnings about environmental toxins are well documented: agencies know, health officials know, and the presidential candidates know.

Unfortunately, protecting our children from environmental exposures often conflicts with the interests of major corporations employing legions of lobbyists who treat Capitol Hill like their personal playground. To the detriment of our children, industry influence has corrupted our political system. The most powerful is the pharmaceutical industry, which employees over 1,200 lobbyists, more than two for every member of Congress, and has spent more than 1 billion dollars over the last decade on Congressional lobbying activities.

Now maybe children's health is not a priority for some people, certainly not the media asking all the same questions over and over again, but in a recent poll 72 percent of all likely voters agreed,"our political leaders are not doing enough to ensure the health, education and well-being of children today." When asked if "the president and Congress need to give a higher priority on our country's children and spend less time on other issues," 76 percent of voters agreed. Nearly half thought the well-being of America's children has worsened in the past 10 years.

These voters are absolutely correct...and this might surprise the "suits" managing presidential campaigns...they represent an important and powerful voting block. So what do these "ordinary" people know that the candidates don't seem to "get" or perhaps prefer not to talk about?

A recent Harvard study reported American children are sicker today, with more chronic illnesses, than a generation ago. So while the past, present and future war strategy dominates the political landscape, millions of parents live in constant crisis trying to care for their very sick children.

During the same time as the presidential candidates have been serving as members of Congress, governors, mayors and one as a Secretary of Health and Human Services, the health of millions of America's children has deteriorated.

So how bad is the state of our children's health?

Cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children.

Leukemia and brain cancer have increased 23 percent and 28 percent, respectively since the 1970s.

1 in 6 children is now considered overweight.

1 in 6 children has a learning disability and/or behavior disorder (ADHD).

1 in 6 children lives in poverty.

1 in 150 children has been diagnosed with autism.

1 in 400 - 500 children has diabetes.

Asthma has more than doubled since 1980 and is the leading chronic disease among American children.

Each of these diseases also carries enormous cost to American taxpayers. It's estimated that childhood cancer, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders and lead poisoning cost our nation $54.9 billion annually.

It doesn't matter if you are Democrat or Republican, liberal, progressive or conservative, low, middle or upper class, the majority of voters are looking for a leader who will make children's health a national priority in actions, not just words.

In every respect, our children are treated like second-class citizens and have been poorly represented. This needs to change.

So let me ask the candidates some questions that you won't hear from the redundant media "talking heads."

On a scale of 1 to 10...#1 being the most important, where do you place the state of our children's health?

For years, science has been telling us that environmental chemicals and toxins are harming our children. What is your plan to reduce environmental exposures?

What do you say to the families who have looked to you for leadership in confronting the rapid rise in children's developmental disorders that many parents believe and multiple studies show, are caused by mercury used in medicine and pushed by government-funded programs? What do you say to these sick children?

What will you do to address the influence of chemical, insurance and pharmaceutical industry on our government? And how much money has been given to your campaign by these industries?

Do you think you've done all you can to protect the health and safety of America's children against environmental toxins?

Memo to the campaign directors: The soccer mom of a decade ago is likely to be the mom of a sick or special needs child today. There are over 7,000 children living with autism in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. Four key battleground swing states. There are even more children struggling with learning disabilities and asthma. With the last two elections being so tight...where every vote truly counted...garnering the support of this new, motivated special interest group could decide the next election.

I've seen this voting group in action. I wouldn't suggest taking them for granted.

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