Pediatric Advocacy Program

Published letters to the editor and more!

The following letters to the editor were written by pediatric residents from the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford during their Adolescent Medicine and Advocacy Rotation. Also included are audio recordings aired on KQED, and written responses to resident advocacy.

February 27, 2013

Letters: Gunning for trouble

The City Council of Spring City, Utah, hopes that its new ordinance encouraging every individual to own a firearm will be a model for the nation. Were the country foolish enough to follow this recommendation, there would certainly be an increase in the number of suicides or domestic disputes that escalate into impulsive homicides.

But as a pediatrician, I am primarily concerned with the most innocent victims of firearms, the children killed and injured in gun-related accidents.

Experts estimate that an American child is killed in an unintentional firearm accident every few days. Thousands more are injured.

My message to Spring City is simple: We all want to protect children. Encouraging universal gun ownership without promoting basic safety measures, such as proper storage of guns — unloaded and locked — is irresponsible. If people are going to have guns, they must at least store them safely, or risk the lives of the children in their home.

Elizabeth Barnert
Los Angeles


June 29, 2011

Remember children with the homeless

As a pediatrician, I read with interest "1,000 roofs for homeless," Page B1, June 28. This report illustrated how large an issue homelessness is in our area, but failed to mention children without homes.

In my practice, I frequently meet families with young children who are struggling with housing. Indeed this is not uncommon. According to recent data, there are approximately 300,000 homeless children in California each year. These children face unique health issues and we need to take note.

I admire the goal to find housing for the most vulnerable, but also want us to remember that children are often our most vulnerable citizens.

Dr. Lindsay Stevens
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford University

SF Gate
June 20, 2011

Serious About Mental Health

I read with interest the Open Forum by Eduardo Vega ("Comprehensive health care reform needs to include mental well-being," June 13). As a pediatrician, I agree with him.

Mental illness affects not only adults, but also children and adolescents, and is crucial to recognize and treat just as we treat other physical illnesses. I have seen depression and anxiety disorders in children that have significantly impaired both their school performance and coping strategies in daily life.

According to the office of the surgeon general, more than 1 in 5, or 14 million children and adolescents in America, have diagnosable mental health disorders that affect their daily functioning or require some sort of intervention. This is an alarming number, given that mental illness is treatable.

All counties in California's county-driven system of care should develop plans that include mental health benefits. Mental health issues must be diagnosed and addressed before they become disabling conditions.

Veena Goel
Palo Alto

April 29, 2011

Nurturing Teens

As a pediatrician, I read with interest "Nurturing happier, healthier youth" (April 22). I want to stress the important role that we all play in asset-building in today's youth. Too often in clinic I see teenagers with vague suicidal thoughts, some even so unhappy they have created a plan to carry out their death. Did you know that one in every five teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood? This is an alarming statistic. As adults and role models for the next generation we need to ask ourselves, "What can we be doing to make things better for our children?"

Please remember to take time for teens whether you are their parent, teacher, neighbor or employer. Teens want to be heard, they want to be valued, and they want to know you think they can make a difference in this world because of their potential. Take part in protecting our children.

Alisa Arunamata
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

April 18, 2011

Obesity Epidemic Needs Guiding Hand of Government

AS A pediatrician and native Bostonian, I was pleased to read about the new executive order to end the sale of sugary drinks on city-owned property and at city-run events (“Soda loses its fizz,’’ Op-ed, April 9). Clearly, the obesity epidemic in both children and adults, with its associated health and financial burden, necessitates change. While the responsibility to make healthy lifestyle choices ultimately rests with the individual, I am happy to see that the City of Boston is promoting healthy options.

A direct correlation has been found between the consumption of soda and increased body mass index. The city will benefit when drinks that are high in sugar with minimal nutritional content are not the closest beverages available when exploring Boston. I look forward to watching children and adults alike stroll through Boston Common or explore the Esplanade with water or another healthy option in hand.

Dr. Jane MacLean
Palo Alto, Calif.


April 8, 2011

New Hurdles for Women Seeking Abortions

To the Editor:

As a pediatrician, I read with interest your editorial highlighting new obstacles for low-income women wishing to obtain an abortion in South Dakota. We should also consider this new law’s effects on adolescents.

Like South Dakota, California is a large state with many rural teenagers; patients often drive more than five hours for medical procedures. Care providers frequently provide them with gas vouchers and also assist with housing arrangements.

I wonder whether in addition to the mandated counseling, South Dakota will also provide much-needed assistance with transportation and housing to young people.

If South Dakota is unwilling to provide such support, I hope that the courts will remove this undue burden from one of society’s most vulnerable populations.

Stanford, Calif., April 1, 2011

SF Gate
January 19, 2011

School meal guidelines long overdue

As a pediatrician, I read with interest the article on healthful school meals ("Federal bid to improve school meals," Jan. 14). I applaud this long-overdue move by the federal government to provide healthy food choices at our children's schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that childhood obesity has more than tripled over the last 30 years, placing our youth at risk for multiple chronic medical conditions. The most effective tools we in the medical field encourage to combat obesity include eating healthy foods and maintaining regular physical activity.

During well-child visits, I ask my patients what they eat for each meal. All too often, I hear "pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs" as daily specials on their school cafeteria lunch menus. No wonder our nation is losing its battle against childhood obesity. In addition, I believe that sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit juices, should be eliminated at schools.

Promoting healthy eating habits should not stop in schools. I encourage parents to adopt similar healthy meal plans for the entire family at home.

Carah Santos, M.D.
Palo Alto

SF Chronicle

October 23, 2010

A foundation for students

As a pediatrician, I read with interest your article "Schools not producing graduates" (Oct. 20).

This report brought attention to a crisis affecting community college students, but I see this problem more as a wake-up call to focus more on these young adults during middle- and high-school years.

Before I entered medical school, I encountered problems like these firsthand. Working as a tutor, I saw an alarming number of high school kids who could not perform simple multiplication and division. Now, as a pediatrician, I see far too many teenagers failing in school. When these kids enter the college realm, they will no doubt feel overwhelmed by higher math, pushing them even further toward withdrawal.

California schools have suffered billions in cuts over the past two years. With fewer teachers and less funds, how can we continue to help our children prepare for college?

Based upon my experiences, it's clear that we should advocate for more school system resources in the younger years of learning. This will build a solid educational foundation that can carry these students successfully through college and beyond.

Dr. Kathryn Gopez
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford


October 4, 2010

Guns in Bars: A Debate Over Safety

To the Editor:

As a pediatrician, I read with interest your recent article about gun control and the movement of crime-related firearms across state lines (“Study Ties Lax State Gun Laws to Crimes in Other States,” news article, Sept. 27).

Even in California, where gun laws are considered effective, we see pediatric patients who are victims of gun violence or accidents involving firearms in the home. It’s a national problem.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of violence in young adults revealed that homicide is the second leading cause of death for children age 10 to 24, with 84 percent of those deaths due to firearms.

I urge parents to remember that if they choose to have a gun in their home, to keep it locked and unloaded and to store ammunition separately. Too often, the firearms purchased for protection of loved ones are the same firearms that cause unintended injuries and deaths.

Audrey Hall
Mountain View, Calif.


KQED/NPR: Tue, Oct 5, 2010 -- 7:35 AM

Compound Interest
Perspective with Dr. Robyn Rogers

USA Today

September 17, 2010

Roundup: Arizona law affects issues of health

As a pediatrician in California, I have witnessed unanticipated costs of the new Arizona immigration law on the health of children. Working at a county hospital emergency department, I met a 4-month-old Latino infant with an infection. When I asked his mother whether he had received his routine vaccines and pediatric care, she hesitated. "We just moved from Arizona," she replied.

Fear roused by the Arizona immigration law had driven them away from their home — a phenomenon that the mother said was not uncommon. Moving led to a disruption in the baby's medical care, resulting in an emergency room visit that likely could have been avoided if this baby had continued to receive care from his regular pediatrician. The infant was missing a whooping cough vaccine, which is notable as California is experiencing a whooping cough epidemic. Under-vaccination of children impacts the health of the patient and of the entire community.

Please consider the unforeseen public health costs of Arizona's immigration law on one of society's most vulnerable sectors — young infants and children.

Liz Barnert
Palo Alto, Calif.

SF Chronicle

June 28, 2010

Stopping the cough

One of my most memorable nights on call as a pediatrician-in-training in San Francisco was caring for a baby girl just weeks old who had contracted pertussis, or whooping cough, from her aunt ("Bay Area sees rise in whooping cough cases," June 5).

The infant struggled to breathe between paroxysms of cough and thick secretions. She spent weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit. Luckily, she recovered and went home.

As your recent article notes, other infants her age are not so fortunate. Whooping cough might sound like an old-fashioned disease, but as the outbreak this year shows us, it will only be kept at bay by vaccinating as many people, children and adults, as we can. Everyone who spends time with young children should check with their doctor to make sure they have gotten their Tdap vaccine.

Amy Whittle, M.D.
San Francisco

SF Chronicle

March 7, 2010

As pediatricians, we read with interest your report "Power of one multiplied in the classroom" (Business, March 1).

The educational value of bringing better technologies into our schools cannot be underestimated. However, this article also brings to mind the dangerous and ever-increasing amount of sedentary behavior among our children.

We see children every day who spend up to five or six hours per day in front of a screen. Unfortunately, the effect this has on their health reflects rising national trends in childhood obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, all carrying enormous risks of current and future health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of American children who are obese has tripled over the past 30 years. That's why we are now seeing children with health problems that had previously only been seen in adults. Schools and parents must exercise caution when expanding computer availability to students, ensuring that screen time does not come at the expense of children's overall health. The value of a computer is immense, but it needs to be balanced with a run around the block and a healthy snack.

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
Stanford School of Medicine

New York Times
September 21, 2007

Children’s Health Coverage

As a pediatrician, I read with particular interest “Veto Risk Seen in Compromise on Child Health” (front page, Sept. 17), regarding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the federal program providing financing for states to provide health insurance coverage for children.

It is possible the House and Senate might reach a compromise before the State Children’s Health Insurance Program’s expiration on Sept. 30, giving me hope that our nation’s leaders have not forgotten our children.

The population I work with relies on Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to obtain what is their right: routine health visits and preventive care, which costs little but has potential for prosperous returns in the health and success of these children. When children are healthy, they thrive.

Four million uninsured children have the potential to thrive. We must be responsible and not use our children’s health in a political battle to set the stage for future elections.

Support effective and comprehensive legislation to ensure medical access for all of America’s children.

Mary Bussey, M.D.
Palo Alto, Calif., Sept. 19, 2007
August 29, 2007

Dear Editor,

As a Colorado native and a pediatrician, I read with interest the article entitled "Colorado rates high in income, lack of health insurance" from August 29, 2007.  The low rate of poverty is a reflection of the economic health of Colorado; however, I am concerned about the health of children, especially those without health insurance, the number of which will sharply rise with the expiration of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) at the end of September.

The rate of uninsured children soon declined after initiation of SCHIP in 1997, but if the President vetoes SCHIP as he has threatened to do all of the advances made ensuring our children can see a doctor will be lost.   SCHIP covers children of the working poor whom otherwise fall between coverage by Medicaid and those covered by private insurance.  By continuing SCHIP, a program evaluated and found to be working,   we are promising our children the best chance at a successful, healthy future.

I urge you to make a stand and be the voice of the children to encourage Congress and the White House to support the renewal and expansion of SCHIP.


Mary Bussey, M.D.
Pediatrics Resident
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
Stanford University

San Jose Mercury News

August 17, 2007

OPINION: Nutrition

The recent study on dieting advice for kids highlighted the importance of diet education for young children and parents. However, teaching healthy eating at home is often not enough. As a pediatrician, I encourage parents to limit junk food, but many children eat most meals at school where pizza, soda and fries can be staples. According to the American Obesity Association, approximately 30 percent of children 6 to 11 years old are overweight and 15 percent are obese. These numbers continue to climb. In order to combat childhood obesity, schools should lead the culture change to not only providing education on healthy foods but also putting this into practice.

Dr. Ann Ming Yeh
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
Palo Alto

SF Chronicle
August 21, 2007

We have failed California's children in school and in lack of health care

How we have failed our children

Editor - As a pediatrician, I read with interest the Aug. 16 article, "Children of color being left behind." I agree with state Superintendent Jack O'Connell - the difference among ethnic groups is "disturbing."

We have failed our state's children not only on an educational level, but also on a health-care level. Children of color are also more likely to be uninsured; 1 in 6 African American children and 1 in 4 Latino children are uninsured, as compared with 1 in 11 white children. It is a timely subject, especially with the uncertainty around re-authorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which is set to expire Oct. 1.

In order to ensure that every child has a healthy start, health-care coverage is of vital importance. Children need to feel well, see well and hear well in order to do well. Yet, as compared with insured children, kids without health insurance are more than 4 times as likely to have an unmet medical need; 3 times as likely to have an unmet dental need; more than 3 times as likely to go without prescription medication; twice as likely to have an unmet need for vision care. How can we expect these kids to succeed in school under these circumstances?

I ask everyone to stand up against injustice toward our nation's children. We must all urge Congress and the White House to support reauthorization of SCHIP to the fullest. (Article link)

Department of Pediatrics
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
Palo Alto

SF Chronicle

July 30, 2007

No help in farm bill for obese children

Editor - As a pediatrician in Palo Alto, I read with interest your July 26 editorial, "Real reform down on the farm." The piece was correct in pointing out the politicization of this bill, but I noted that it fails to address the real underlying concern of healthy food choices for our children.

My practice is full of obese children and I strongly contribute their obesity to poor quality of food choices in our schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children (more than 9 million) 6-19 years old are overweight or obese - a number that has tripled since 1980. Without the farm bill, our schools will resort to cheap, ever increasing fat-laden meals and our obesity epidemic will continue to soar.

Perhaps we should call this bill what it is, the food bill, and work toward a compromise that will ensure our children get the proper healthy food choices they deserve. If not, the cost of health care for our "soon to be adult" obese children will be overwhelming. (Article link)

Stanford University Programs
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
Palo Alto


After SCHIP, What's Next ?

Interview with Dr. Lisa Chamberlain (Stanford School of Medicine)
Feb. 5, 2009

Pediatrician, Advocate for Children’s Health Suggests Next Steps for
Congress and President Obama

View video
Listen to podcast



December 15, 2006

Pediatric obesity a growing threat

Dear Editor: As a pediatrician, I read with interest the recent article "Great junk food debate: Schools debate banishing sugary, fatty foods from lunchroom," (Nov. 15). The article provided good information regarding dietary options for kids at school, which is a pressing issue.

In this country, there is a very real crisis of pediatric obesity that is due to multiple factors, including inactivity and poor nutritional choices. Studies show that 15 percent to 20 percent of U.S. children 12 to 19 years old are overweight, numbers that have been steadily climbing. School is a great place to address this problem because of the amount of time children spend in school each year. I have treated several children in my clinic who regularly choose french fries, chips or sodas as their lunch at school. While educating students about healthier options is a wonderful start, more action is needed. Schools should eliminate or limit the availability of items like chips, sodas and other sugary or fatty foods.

Based on my own patients and experiences, I believe our nation's schools should take a larger role in the health of America's children. Given the growing crisis of childhood obesity, these steps are very important in the prevention of diseases that were once solely in adults, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Tragically, these conditions are now on the rise in our children.

Latasha N. Williams, M.D
Mountain View



December 8, 2006

Kids and smoking

Dear Editor: As a pediatrician, I read with interest the letter to the editor "Smell the smoke-free air" on Tuesday. I would like to emphasize that cigarette smoke exposure has especially grave consequences for children's health, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks and infections, sudden infant death syndrome and the development of cancer later in life.

In my experience, children exposed to secondhand smoke require more emergency room visits and hospitalizations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants with smoking mothers are twice as likely to develop ear infections or pneumonia and are nearly 40 percent more likely to be hospitalized. Perhaps most important, smokers' homes contain two to three times the level of chemical irritants from cigarettes that cause illness, even when smoking is done "outside."

There is strong evidence that children exposed to secondhand smoke suffer serious, and preventable, consequences to their health. I hope that parents join our efforts to ensure smoke-free air for all children, both by quitting and by promoting public nonsmoking laws. By standing up for a child's health, you're saving your own health - and perhaps your life - as well.

Bronwyn Baz, M.D., pediatric resident,
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Palo Alto

November 24, 2006

More teen-only gyms needed


As a pediatrician, I read with interest your Nov. 10 article, "Teen-friendly workout." The article presented an innovative concept that I feel should be expanded to other communities in the Bay Area. Pediatric and teenage obesity is a serious crisis in our country. Recent studies show that 15 to 20 percent of U.S. kids 12 to 19 years old are overweight, and these numbers continue to rise. Multiple factors play a part in this growing problem, especially the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of our kids. "Overtime Fitness," the teen-centered sports club in Mountain View, is a great concept that incorporates fun and physical activity in an environment that is safe and geared toward promoting healthy lifestyles in teens. However, this is an expensive option requiring initiation and monthly fees; many patients that I care for who are in need of this exact type of environment cannot afford it. Several of my patients are not offered physical education in school and also don't feel safe walking, running, or playing sports in their own neighborhoods. "Overtime Fitness" is an outstanding concept and should be expanded to neighborhoods that are underserved. Offering similar, more affordable programs such as this would greatly benefit the health of all Bay Area teens and play a critical role in helping us prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems associated with obesity.

Latasha N. Williams, MD
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

October 27, 2006

As a pediatrician in Palo Alto, I am disturbed by the frequent advertisements on the TV by tobacco industry trying to obscure the debate on raising cigarette taxes by criticizing where the funding will go. It is intolerable to imagine the trend of cigarette smoking in teens and younger children, the impact on Californians' health if we do not take action immediately.

Just this month, as I spent more time discussing with adolescents on their smoking habits and the age when they first experimented cigarette smoking, I was shocked to find out how common it is and how tobacco has become a habit of children at younger and younger age! Currently, more than 15% of California's high school student smoke and the smoking rate of middle school students has almost doubled in the past two years. California kids buy or smoke nearly 60 million packs of cigarettes per year. Our young future leaders are investing their pocket money to something that will harm their health and cause approximately 180,000 deaths among themselves and their peers, 17yrs of age in the future, as a result of their smoking.

Not only Proposition 86 will protect the harm of tobacco smoking to our population, it helps fund critical health care priorities, like children(s1)(s6)s health insurance. This such a rare opportunity for us to do so much good with just one vote - vote YES ON PROP 86.

Juin Yee Kong, MD
Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital, Palo Alto

September 27, 2006

Fixing the fitness gap


I read with interest Alexandria Rocha's article "A new way for EPA kids to get their kicks" (Sept. 20). As a pediatrician serving the local community, I was excited to learn of the recently founded Ravenswood Youth Athletic Association (RYAA) and the success of the organization's first weekend of soccer games, with 400 children participating. According to recent information gathered by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, approximately 30 percent of East Palo Alto youth are overweight, consistent with the current epidemic among children. Potentially more concerning is that only five percent of youth in the Ravenswood City Elementary School District meet the California Department of Education Fitness Standards, compared to 33 percent in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties overall. My colleagues and I care for numerous overweight patients from East Palo Alto. While the treatment of these children is multi-faceted, increased physical activity remains a vital component. Indeed, pediatricians from Stanford developed a soccer league for East Palo Alto elementary students, and are active supporters of community-wide campaigns that promote healthy lifestyle changes and combat obesity, such as the "Get Fit EPA" initiative. Together with programs like the RYAA, we hope to help mitigate the fitness disparity between East Palo Alto's children and those in the surrounding area.

Jonathan P. Palma, MD
Palo Alto, CA

August 13, 2006

Dangerous trend

Editor -- As a pediatrician, I am concerned by the fact that the issue of performance-enhancing drugs cannot seem to leave the sports page. The Floyd Landis case is only among the latest examples of high-profile athletes using these drugs. Although anabolic steroid use is mainly visible in professional sports, we know that the problem is spreading into college and high school sports. Studies show a national user rate in high school students between 3 percent and 9 percent, and these rates are rising at an alarming rate. The health risks associated with steroid use in children and adolescents are severe and include stunted growth, liver damage, early heart disease, emotional disturbances and an increased propensity to commit violence and suicide. Professional athletes are role models for young people and strongly influence their behavior. We need "clean" athletes, who do not take performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, who publicly deplore the use of steroids and other synthetic drugs among today's youth, who advocate fair play and who protect the integrity of sports competition.

Mona Luke-Zeitoun
Palo Alto

Letter from Diane Feinstein

June 14, 2006
Dr. Bryan Kono
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
725 Welch Road
Palo Alto, California 94304

Dear Dr. Kono:

Thank you for contacting me in support of the Family Entertainment Protection Act. I appreciate hearing from you about indecent material in the media and entertainment industry.

In my lifetime, I have watched an increase in gratuitous violence and indecent sexually-explicit material in video games and the media as well as on television and the radio. I believe that some material is simply not appropriate for all audiences.

As a grandmother, I often worry about what my own grandchildren are exposed to in video games, television, movies and other forms of media. Federal regulations in this area and all others have developed through balancing two important principles:
protecting the well-being of minors while simultaneously following the constitutional protections afforded under the First Amendment. As legislation, such as the Federal Entertainment Protection Act, is introduced to address these issues, these will be my guiding principles. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind and will continue to work for legislation that addresses the problem.

Thank you again for writing. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or my Washington, DC staff at (202) 224-3841 or at

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator


Tuesday, May 16--KQED 88.5 FM

Where the American Dream Resides

Perspective by Bryan Kono, MD

April 23, 2006

Deter the jumpers

Editor -- As a pediatrician in the Bay Area, I have been following with interest the Golden Gate Bridge suicide-barrier debate. I am encouraged by the unanimous vote and community fundraising announced in the April 13 article, "Panel OKs funds for suicide barrier study." In the past month alone, I have counseled a half-dozen teens in the emergency room after suicide attempts and lost a family friend to suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge. I cannot help but assume that a barrier would change the fate of some of the roughly 25 individuals who end their life each year with a fall from the Bay Area's most infamous structure. In an oft-sited 1978 study, 94 percent of those deterred from jumping did not subsequently commit suicide. In practice, I cannot ultimately control the health outcome of an individual, but that does not stop me from striving to do just that. It seems as a collective, we should take the same approach for suicide prevention. My thanks to the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California and all those who have raised awareness and funds in pursuit of a solution.

Bryan Kono, MD
Palo Alto, CA



November 30, 2005

As a pediatrician in Palo Alto I read with interest your article on “Kids fight fat with aid of emails”, November 29, page 42. The piece highlighted an innovative solution to the complex problem of childhood obesity, but I noted that the family of the girl featured in the article did not adopt healthy lifestyle together.

Childhood obesity is a problem that I encounter frequently in my clinic. Lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits are often not isolated to the child, but rather are a problem for the whole family. The American Obesity Association (AOA) believes that parents are the most important role models for children. A survey conducted by the AOA found that 61 percent of parents said that it would be either "not very difficult" or "not at all difficult" to change their eating and/or physical activity patterns if it would help prevent obesity in any of their children.

Based upon my experiences, I believe that creating a healthy eating environment and active environment for the whole family is the key to establishing healthy habits for children. I hope that the parents I encounter in my clinic and those reading this article understand the powerful influence that their own actions have on their children.

Heather Iezza, MD
Menlo Park, CA

November 21, 2005

Parents can stop teen drug abuse

Your article, ``Reality check,'' (Nov. 17) regarding teen drinking in Palo Alto is a step in the right direction. However, alcohol is only one of the substances abused by adolescents. Many teens find it easier to obtain marijuana than alcohol, and a myth that driving while on marijuana is all right persists among teens. Even crystal methamphetamine and ``ecstasy'' are abused by local youth.

As a pediatric physician, I encourage parents to discuss drugs and alcohol with their children early. Just recently I spoke with a teenager who had stopped using marijuana eight months before because of a discussion with his mother. Parents have the greatest influence on kids' opinions on drugs, and discussing it early does not lead to curiosity or increased use.

Jon-Michael Castelli, MD
Palo Alto, CA

May 5, 2005

Students need healthier lunches

As a pediatrician, I appreciated the article you published last week on the Palo Alto school board considering hiring a more expensive food vendor in an effort to provide healthier food in schools. The rate of obesity in our country is rapidly rising, and studies show that a majority of children who are overweight will become obese adults. What kind of message are we giving our children when we offer them soda, chips, candy and high-fat lunches at a learning institution where they spend almost 40 hours a week? From a health prospective, more nutritious food is well worth the extra cost.

Nasha Nasim Saber, MD
Menlo Park, CA

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