Editor’s Note: The Know Better, Live Better Campaign will share practical information and useful tools to inform healthier decision making for ourselves and our families. Each month, this column will highlight a different author and topic.

Americans on different sides of the political divide seem to have trouble understanding one another today. Conversations about politics, in person or on Facebook, make people angry, stressed and even depressed.

You might believe that the following strategy works best for you and your family: turn off the news and ignore the headlines about pollution levels, climate change, and rising rates of asthma in children, when you are powerless to make a difference, right?

It sure feels that way most of the time.

However, there is one important exception. Tuesday, Nov. 6 is Election Day, and this is one day that your voice-your vote can make a difference.   Check out this video and see what former first lady Michelle Obama has to say about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4hdJPCnjPY

The last day to register to vote in Georgia is Oct. 9. Verify that you’re registered to vote here: https://www.headcount.org/verify-voter-registration/

Did you know that the simple act of voting is, in fact, good for your mental health? A recent study using national data found that adolescents and young adults who exercise their right to vote to tend to report lower levels of depression later in adulthood.

As stated by its authors, Ballard, Hoyt, et. al, “voting presents an opportunity to exert voice, perhaps establishing a path to health through empowerment.”

Yes, there is evidence that suggests voting is good for your mental health. But, in the upcoming election, voting may be even more critical for your physical health and the health of your children.

The American political divide is real, and it has real consequences for women and children’s health.

Currently, the United States is controlled by a political administration whose goal is to scale back or eliminate regulations that were put in place over a number of decades by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These regulations were designed to protect people from dangerous chemicals and pollutants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

In the past year, under guidance from the current administration, the EPA has changed how it studies the effects of dangerous chemicals, focusing only on impacts of direct exposure and not on the accumulation of chemicals in the air, water, and soil.

EPA rule changes about asbestos and how it is tracked and monitored through imports has raised fear and alarm in doctors who treat patients with lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the administration’s own analysis, the abolishment of the Clean Power Plan and its restrictions on coal-burning power plants will lead to an additional 1400 premature deaths per year, and more than 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory illnesses.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the negative health consequences of these changes in EPA rules will hit children and minority populations the hardest.

According to EPA data, African Americans are 1.5 times more likely than Caucasians to be exposed to pollutants in air and water. And according to CDC data, rates of asthma are already twice as high in black children as in white children in the US.

Under previous political administrations, the EPA was a guiding force in protecting our country’s most vulnerable citizens.

For the past 20 years, they have funded research centers focused on environmental impacts on children’s health, including the Center for Children’s Health, the Environment, the Microbiome, and Metabolomics (C-CHEM2) based here in Atlanta.

But EPA funding of scientific programs for children’s health appears to be shutting down. Also, it was reported this week in The New York Times that the head of the Office of Children’s Health Protection was placed on administrative leave—asked to hand in her badge and escorted out of the building with no explanation.

Colleagues and commentators suggest that her dismissal is part of an ongoing effort to dismantle children’s health initiatives at the EPA.

At this point in the story, you might feel like covering your head with a blanket and just going to bed. Or you might feel so angry that you want to throw something or scream out loud. Same.

But remember, your voice is your vote, and your vote is your power.

If the changes at the EPA are making you angry, frustrated or sad, do what is best for your mental health, your physical health and the health of your children.

Register to vote in Georgia today (https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/welcome.do#no-back-button), and cast your ballot for change on Nov. 6.

Know Better Live Better is an initiative of the Emory Children’s Environmental Health Center aka the C-CHEM 2 Project. The Center is one of several NIEHS/EPA funded centers across the country. Ours is the only center focused on Black women, and how our environment may influence our high rates of premature birth and impact our children’s health (i.e. asthma, ADHD, obesity).

 

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