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Our Kids, Our Communities

New campaign will make Michigan a healthy place for kids to grow and thrive
Sep 14, 2011
Every child deserves a fair shot at a bright future.

Kids need loving families and strong schools to reach their full potential.

They also need good food, fresh air, clean water, and safe places to live and play.

With your generous support, the Michigan Environmental Council is working to make Michigan a healthy place for children to grow and thrive.

The strategies detailed in this proposal will allow our kids to be kids—and enjoy the incredible playground of Michigan’s outdoors—without suffering from asthma, obesity, lead poisoning and other environmental health problems.

These strategies also will help build a stronger economy that supports Michigan farmers, local shop owners, clean-energy manufacturers and others. They will save us all money on health care bills. And they will help create vibrant communities where young professionals will choose to raise families.

After more than thirty years of getting things done at the State Capitol, MEC has the political expertise to achieve these and other important goals.

Your financial support will help us convince state leaders that we must protect our environment to ensure a healthy future for our people and economy.

Healthy Places, Healthy People

Heart-wrenching stories of cancer clusters near toxic hot spots come to mind when people think of environmental health.

However, health professionals increasingly recognize that our surroundings impact our well-being in more subtle, everyday ways.

How we build our communities, transport ourselves and power our homes; the products we use; the availability of healthy foods; and our proximity to recreational opportunities. All these things—which many of us don’t give a second thought—can improve or impair our health.

While environmental conditions play a big role in determining everyone’s well-being, healthy surroundings are especially important for kids.
  • Pound for pound, children are exposed to more pollution than adults, as they fuel growing bodies and high metabolisms by breathing more air, eating more food and drinking more water.
  • While children’s natural curiosity spurs their developing minds, behaviors like crawling and mouthing objects can expose them to dangerous chemicals.
  • Kids exposed to pollution have more years of life ahead of them, so they are more susceptible to health problems that develop over time.
  • Childhood health impacts are often hard to overcome. For example, 70 to 80 percent of overweight children become overweight or obese adults.
Children from minority and low-income families tend to bear the greatest environmental health burden. For instance, about one in five black children now has asthma, compared to one in ten of all American kids.  Likewise, 82 percent of all Michigan children hospitalized for extremely high blood lead levels in 2010 were from Detroit.

In making Michigan a healthier place to live, we can build a more just and equitable state—and a more prosperous one too. Environmental illnesses hobble our economy. A report by the Ecology Center and the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health found that pediatric illnesses with environmental links cost Michigan a staggering $5.8 billion each year. That report didn’t account for obesity and inactivity, which are at the root of more than a quarter of our country’s health care costs.

At the Michigan Environmental Council we recognize that our other efforts to protect Michigan’s environment mean little if our children and grandchildren can’t fully enjoy the wonders of the Great Lake State because they suffer from lead poisoning, asthma, obesity and other environmental illnesses.

That’s why we are committed to making every corner of our state a safe place for children to grow strong and healthy. Michigan’s future depends on it. Your financial support helps to make it a reality.

Filling our Communities with Food and Fun

We all know the basic formula for staying fit: Eat nutritious foods and get plenty of exercise.

Unfortunately, these fundamental ingredients of a healthy life are all too scarce in many Michigan communities.

More than 12 percent of Michigan children are obese, putting our state in the nation’s top ten. Obesity increases risk for serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease and cancer. It is also linked to sleep apnea, arthritis and depression.

If we don’t get this epidemic under control, obesity-related health care is expected to cost Michigan $12.5 billion in 2018.

Combating obesity requires rethinking the way we design communities.

For example, a majority of Detroiters live in neighborhoods where fast food chains and convenience stores are at least twice as close as grocery stores that sell healthy foods.

To make matters worse, communities where these “food deserts” prevail often offer limited transportation options and are targeted with high auto insurance rates. Without the resources to reach distant purveyors of healthy foods, many Michigan residents eat what’s available: junk food.

Opportunities for safe physical activity are also scarce for too many Michigan children. In many of our city neighborhoods and suburban developments, the built environment—designed for cars, not for people—makes it dangerous and unpleasant to walk, bike or play outside.

The Michigan Environmental Council takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing the environmental links to obesity. Your financial support will strengthen our work on key issues like:
  • Access to nutritious foods. We are working to ensure that people in every corner of Michigan can easily obtain fresh produce grown locally. To eliminate food deserts, we promote public policies that support urban agriculture at sensible scales and link consumers to farms in their local region. We also are leading the charge to expand transportation access and options to put healthy food in reach for everyone, car owner or not.
  • Complete streets. Good health takes a backseat to safety in many parts of Michigan where roads are unsafe if you’re not in an automobile. That’s why MEC and partners last year successfully pushed for a statewide Complete Streets policy that requires road projects to consider the safety of all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. We are now engaged in the critical work of implementing this policy throughout Michigan.
  • Fitness-friendly communities. We work with city planners and other allies to promote public policies that encourage compact communities where home, work, shopping and entertainment are all within walking or biking distance. Studies show that such “incidental exercise” is a big contributor to health and that dense, mixed-use communities give local businesses a boost and attract young professionals.
  • Healthy schools. MEC is working with our allies to make sure school lunches provide the nutrition kids need to grow strong. We also advocate for schools to be built in existing neighborhoods—where walking and biking are viable options—instead of in farm fields. And we support efforts to make sure kids who walk and bike to school have safe routes to do so.

Defeating a Danger Within

While many environmental health challenges defy straightforward policy solutions, stopping lead poisoning is a simple matter of political will. We know what causes it. We know it does severe, irreversible damage. And we know how to fix it.

Children are most commonly lead-poisoned by ingesting paint from houses built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned. Babies put their hands in their mouths after crawling in lead-polluted dust, or eat paint chips out of curiosity.

Such innocent behavior can have disastrous consequences. Lead-poisoned kids often don’t exhibit noticeable symptoms, even as the toxic metal attacks their developing brains and nervous systems. Lead exposure can cause lowered IQ, speech problems and aggressive behavior; decreased bone and muscle growth; and liver and kidney damage. In severe cases, it can even trigger seizures, coma and death.

Lead poisoning is also an economic menace that costs Michigan $4.85 billion every year.

Fortunately, the remedy is as clear as the effects are severe: At-risk children must be tested for lead in their blood, and lead must be cleaned up in homes.

These proven measures yield more than improved health. A strong prevention program will create jobs, improve Michigan’s housing stock and reduce health care and special education costs.

Still, Michigan decision makers have not invested the time, energy and money necessary to stop this preventable tragedy.

With your financial support, the Michigan Environmental Council and partners will send a wake-up call to state political leaders and move Michigan toward a lead-free future. Your contribution will help us:
  • Secure stable funding for lead programs. Testing at-risk kids and removing lead from homes have long been underfunded in Michigan. Now, state and federal support has all but disappeared. MEC and allies are working to establish a steady source of funding that only dries up when lead poisoning is history.
  • Educate state leaders. Too few state leaders understand the huge costs of lead poisoning. In meetings with those who call the shots in the State Capitol, we are making a powerful case that investments in lead programs will more than pay for themselves in lives and money saved.
  • Rally public support for increased investment. MEC works at the community level to make sure residents understand the dangers of lead poisoning and how to prevent it. With your help, we will turn awareness into action by rallying concerned citizens to make their voices heard by elected officials.
Lead poisoning has no place in the healthy, prosperous and beautiful Michigan that MEC is working to create. Together, we can make it a thing of the past.

Giving Kids a Breath of Fresh Air

Our parents were onto something when they told us to “go outside and play.” Studies show outdoor activity stimulates minds, strengthens bodies and lowers stress.

But for the one in ten Michigan kids who suffer from asthma, playing outside can be a risky proposition. It can mean dangerous wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Many factors—including dust, dander, pollen, and weather—can bring on asthma symptoms. Research also indicates that air pollution triggers attacks and may cause healthy people to develop asthma. Emissions from vehicle tailpipes, coal-fired power plants and other industrial concerns are the biggest culprits. In fact, a recent report commissioned by MEC found that Michigan’s nine oldest coal plants alone cost the state $1.5 billion each year in health care costs related to asthma and other illnesses.

Not surprisingly, people in the most polluted parts of our state suffer the most. Consider Detroit.
  • Kids in the city are three times more likely to have asthma than the national average;
  • Asthma is the leading cause of preventable hospital visits for Detroiters under 18; and
  • Children there are more than five times as likely as other Michigan kids to die from asthma.
The city’s highest asthma rates are in Southwest Detroit—home to a coal plant, heavy industry, two major freeways, and Michigan’s only oil refinery. Not far away is a toxic-spewing trash incinerator, which MEC and allies are working to replace with curbside recycling.

The national cost of this epidemic is approaching $60 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With your financial backing, MEC will continue to pursue policy changes that will improve our quality of life while curbing air pollution that aids and abets asthma.
  • Tapping homegrown power. MEC was an architect of historic laws that kick-started investments in renewable power and energy efficiency. By continuing to displace power from dirty, imported coal, we can reduce air emissions and stoke Michigan’s growing clean-energy industry.
  • Greening transportation. A seamless network of trains, buses, bike paths and walking trails is a cornerstone of our vision for a stronger Michigan. Fewer miles driven in cars will mean cleaner air in our neighborhoods. MEC also is working with allies to retire obsolete diesel engines and pave the way for cleaner electric vehicles.
  • Building a united front against asthma. MEC is demonstrating to environmental partners and medical professionals alike that fighting asthma and creating a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. With your help, we will build a strong network of asthma advocates that speaks for change in a powerful, unified voice.
  • Creating healthy homes. The emerging healthy homes concept promotes a holistic view of the places we live as contributors to our physical well-being. Healthy homes are clean, dry, pest-free and ventilated. They’re less likely to contain asthma triggers like dust and mold (and are free from lead-based paint). With staff members trained in the concept, MEC is poised to lead efforts to make Michigan’s housing stock safe and healthy.
Help Us Make a Healthier Michigan

The consistent support of friends like you has made the Michigan Environmental Council the strongest voice for environmental protection in our magnificent state.

Over three decades we’ve developed an unmatched combination of environmental expertise and political savvy. Our professionalism and focus on positive solutions have earned us the respect of state leaders. Backed by the resources that our generous donors provide, MEC has partnered with a broad range of allies to win landmark victories for Michigan’s people, environment and quality of life.

Your continued support will help us put our unique strengths into action, making Michigan a model of improved health through environmental protection. To achieve the policies described throughout this proposal, we will:
  • Show our leaders the way. Behind all good policies are well-informed decision makers. By visiting with them face-to-face, testifying at committee hearings, and participating in legislative and administrative work groups, we help our political leaders see that a healthy environment is the bedrock of a thriving Michigan.
  • Build powerful partnerships. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a diverse network of allies gives us the clout to turn good ideas into sound policies. Along with our more than 60 member groups, we are joining forces with an expanding network of environmental, health, faith and business leaders to ensure our environment benefits our health.
  • Make our case in the media. Through press events and informal conversations, we help journalists understand complex environmental issues and get the story right. Our communications pros know how to leverage media coverage to shape policy decisions.
Please visit our support page to make a tax-deductible gift to MEC today. Your gift will help us create a safer, healthier Michigan where all children have a fair chance to lead successful, fulfilling lives.

With your help, we can create a bright future by protecting Michigan kids, our greatest natural resource.

Thank you!
Tina Reynolds, health policy director
Andy Draheim, director of finance & development
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