James Perrin, MD, FAAP, began a one-year term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in January. A professor in the department of pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, Perrin received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Investigator Award in Health Policy Research in 1997.
Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new role as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics! What is your vision for the organization?
James Perrin: We are focused on addressing three main areas, which have really driven a lot of our thinking and, more importantly, our activity and change in the last several years.
First, we are working to help pediatric practices take on more community-based interventions to help young families raise their kids more effectively. There is a tremendous growth in the number of chronic diseases among children in four major areas: asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders. We recognize these are not classic health conditions; they arise from and within communities, and both their prevention and their treatment are really community-based endeavors, as opposed to office-based activities.
Our second, and highly related priority, is an increased focus on early childhood development. We have understood the tremendous importance of early childhood for years, but there is now so much more science behind it. We know a lot more about how negative experiences and toxic stress can affect child development and how it can affect brain growth and neuroendocrine function. On the positive side, we also have more knowledge about the importance of reading to children, increasing language in the home, and other early-childhood interventions.
Thirdly, we have a better understanding of the tremendous impact of poverty on child health. Almost a quarter of American children live in households below the federal poverty line, and almost 45 percent live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line. So a large number of American children are poor or near poor, and we know that poverty affects essentially everything related to child health. It makes those four categories of chronic conditions—asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders—more prevalent and more serious, and it affects children’s responses to treatment. Lower-income kids with leukemia or cystic fibrosis, for example, have higher death rates than kids with the same diseases who are middle class. It’s impossible not to see on a daily basis how poverty affects child health.