As the country’s most influential medical society, the American Medical Association (AMA) holds a lot of sway with government officials who decide what is and isn’t important when it comes to public health. Last week, the agency concluded its annual House of Delegates meeting, where they themselves decide what health issues need to be addressed.
The 555 members of the AMA’s House of Delegates meet every year to vote on policies put forth by doctors and state medical societies covering everything from organizational structure to whether doctors should accept freebies from pharmaceutical companies. Often, agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refer to the AMA’s policies when trying to make decisions on laws and regulations.
You may have heard in the news earlier this week that the group voted, by a 2 to 1 ratio, to support the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the controversial health care bill), which requires that all Americans buy health insurance. It got attention for adopting a new policy to encourage advertising agencies to limit the amount of electronic modification done to photographic images of people to make them appear more attractive, saying that the practice promotes unrealistic expectations of body image in teenagers.
The delegates also made a few other standout decisions that didn’t get much press coverage:
Bisphenol A: Loads of scientific studies have shown that is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with reproductive development in infants, and more evidence shows it can have other health effects, such as triggering inflammation and . Last week, the AMA decided to accept the science and officially recognize the substance as an endocrine disruptor (prior to this meeting, the group recognized endocrine disruptors as public health threats, but it hadn’t recognized BPA specifically). The delegates also decided to support bans on the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups that contain BPA and are going to start urging companies to develop alternatives to BPA-free , which some companies and retailers () are already doing. The association now supports the labeling of products that contain BPA, which will protect not only infants but also pregnant women. Most of the evidence on BPA suggests that babies are most harmed when .
Mercury emissions: Cement factories are the , behind coal-fired power plants. That mercury winds up in the air we breathe and in popular seafood like tuna. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new guidelines for mercury emissions from these plants, but the industry is fighting these new guidelines tooth and nail. The AMA delegates adopted a resolution supporting the EPA’s efforts as well as stricter monitoring of mercury emissions, with one board member noting the toxic metal’s harmful impact on neurological development and reproductive and cardiovascular health.
Airport body scanners: Apparently, the AMA is as befuddled by the science on the safety of those controversial as the rest of us. Recognizing the growing public concern over these machines, the delegates determined that they couldn’t decide whether the machines pose a health threat to travelers. So they adopted a resolution to form an expert panel made up of radiologists, biophysicists, and other health professionals to study the effects of the scanners. And their decision was appropriately timed. Just after it was announced, the Electronic Privacy Information Center released the results of a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the Department of Homeland Security has been stating, incorrectly, that the National Institute of Standards and Technology had tested and “affirmed the safety” of body scanners, when in fact the institute never actually tested them and has been trying to get the agency to quit saying that it did.