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Personal Health, Medical Costs Tied to Climate-Change Discussion

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021   

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Climate change might conjure up images of wildfires or dried up rivers out West, but an Iowa doctor is joining her counterparts around the world to say policymakers need to also account for the effects on a person's health and their need for medical care.

Congress and the Biden administration are trying to finalize an infrastructure plan, which could include some clean-energy components, but not as far-reaching as the president's original proposal.

Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, an OB-GYN and integrative medicine physician based in Cedar Falls, hopes a full range of ideas is adopted.

She said in states like Iowa, agriculture and flooding aren't a good mix for long-term health.

"When we have flooding, chemicals have run off into the water that we then consume, and all of it is just a never-ending cycle that we are very much a part of," Bartlett Hackenmiller explained.

She added smog and smoke from other states can make their way to Iowa, harming anyone dealing with asthma, allergies and heart disease.

The pending infrastructure agreement leaves out many of the climate-mitigation strategies pushed by the Biden administration, prompting criticism from some Democrats. The White House hopes to advance a follow-up bill through budget reconciliation rules in the Senate.

Bartlett Hackenmiller thinks it's important that both efforts happen quickly, because community health needs immediate protections from the effects of climate change, especially for people in underserved areas.

She noted both state and federal budgets could feel less pressure if people are healthier.

"I firmly believe, as an integrative-medicine doctor, that anything that we can do to prevent illness is money that's very, very well spent," Bartlett Hackenmiller contended.

For example, studies have linked the creation of more open spaces in populated areas to a rise in physical activity among the people who live there.

Bartlett Hackenmiller said that reduces chronic illness and the need for care. Last year, more than 4,000 U.S. health-care professionals signed a letter urging leaders to take comprehensive action.


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