Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine: Advocacy and Context Matter

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I want to welcome all of you to the second day of our 2016 meeting, actually, the third day for some of us, as this year the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) offered an advocacy session which began on Tuesday afternoon with preparatory training and continued on Wednesday morning with visits to the Hill. For me, this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about advocacy. James Baumberger, Devin Miller, Jamie Poslosky, and Ethan Jorgensen-Earp of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Krishna Upadhya and the Advocacy Committee; and Ryan Norton and the SAHM staff all deserve our thanks for putting together an exceptional experience, taking full advantage of this year's meeting location in Wash-ington, DC. In my talk today, I plan to focus on the importance of context in understanding adolescent health. But first, given the location of our meeting, I would like to talk a bit about advocacy, in this case specifically as public action to influence policy. The training experiences on Tuesday and Wednesday focused on this kind of advocacy. In many ways, I am an introvert, so engaging in public advocacy does not come naturally to me and is far outside of my comfort zone. However, I have come increasingly to appreciate the importance of developing advocacy skills. Public health policy, which can be influenced by effective advocacy, has an enormous impact on adolescent health. Just as a quick example, countries like Australia, Denmark, and the United Kingdom have national immunization policies that ensure that the vast majority of their youth have received human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and are therefore protected from later development of cervical and anal cancers [1e3]. In the United States, where public health vaccination policy varies hugely by state and vac-cine delivery is inefficiently conducted, less than 40% of 13-to 17-year-old girls and a little over 20% of boys have received all three doses of HPV vaccine [4]. Policy matters, politics matters, and advocacy matters. Being in Washington, DC, it is nearly impossible to forget, even if we want to, that this is a profoundly important presi-dential election year in the United States, the results of which will have powerful implications for adolescent health, including reproductive health. Furthermore, because the United States is a global power, U.S. domestic and foreign policies also have im-plications for health throughout the world, with climate change and military actions being just two examples. The theme of this year's meeting is " Youth in context: Inter-action among adolescents, environments, and healthcare. " I really appreciate this expansive theme, as it emphasizes the importance of considering adolescent and young adult health in the broader worlds of family, school, community, culture, and political systems. At the same time that we discover keys to health by diving into the minutiae of the genome and the neuron, we should not forget that unlocking genomic and neurophysio-logical puzzles is not nearly sufficient by itself to address the major health and safety concerns of adolescents and young adults, a point that Ron Dahl made in his Gallagher Lecture. Neurophysiological development, as well as health and health behaviors, occurs within the contexts of peers, family, schools, and health care providers; within the contexts of community and cultural norms and dictates; and, perhaps most importantly, as previously noted, within the contexts of political and public health policy. All these contexts strongly influence the health and well-being of adolescents throughout the world in ways that cannot be captured solely by research into genes and neuro-physiology. As the great Gestalt psychologist, Kurt Lewin, argued, the whole is greater than, and different from, the sum of its parts. Just as advocacy matters, context matters. For example, two identical slices of pizza will be evaluated very differently if one is presented on a plate on a table at a stylish restaurant and the other is presented on a manhole cover in the middle of a busy street. This year's theme is very much reflective of SAHM's mission. Our mission statement reads: Founded in 1968, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) is a multidisciplinary organization committed to improving the physical and psychosocial health and well-being of all adolescents through advocacy, clinical care, health promotion, health service delivery, professional development and research [5]. Like youth in context, we who belong to SAHM and attend this meeting are professionals in context. We rely on the youth we work with, advocate for, educate, and study to inspire and energize us. We rely on our own teachers and mentors to guide us and rely on our colleagues, our mentees, and the SAHM community to support our efforts. We rely on our institutions and our local, state, and national governmentsdor hope todto support our clinical and educational activities, listen and respond to our advocacy efforts, and fund our research. Our families and friends help to remind us of some of the most important prior-ities of our lives, which exist outside of our professional endeavors.




Zimet, G. D. (2016, July 1). Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine: Advocacy and Context Matter. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(1), 130–132.

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