The ultimate purpose of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is to promote the welfare of children and the pediatricians who care for them. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children (AIDHC) pediatrician Sandra G. Hassink, MD, is one of two candidates nominated in 2013 for the office of President of the AAP. Elections will take place in November. The other candidate is Dr. Tom Tryon of Kansas City, MO.
For Dr. Hassink, the nomination comes after more than two decades in leadership roles with the AAP, first in Delaware and then nationally. “As a young physician, I became energized and motivated after attending an AAP meeting. I saw how pediatricians could take what they experienced in practice and translate it into policy, advocacy, and education for children, their families and caregivers.”
A pediatrician in Delaware for more than 30 years, Dr. Hassink recognized the rising tide of childhood obesity long before it was on everyone’s radar. She founded the Weight Management Program at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in 1988. “I was seeing obese children and adolescents with alarming frequency,” she recalled. “These kids and their parents needed help.” She understood that it wasn’t just about office visits, it was about changing the culture, and advocacy.
Jay Greenspan, MD, Nemours/AIDHC Chairman of Pediatrics, said: “Dr. Hassink has been a leader in the Department of Pediatrics for many years and a national ‘go to’ authority in pediatric weight management. Her candidacy for AAP president is both well deserved and a great honor for the department. Importantly, Sandy’s hard work is not done, as childhood obesity remains a major concern for everyone who cares about the health of our children. As a respected bedside clinician, a careful researcher, and an advocate for children, Dr. Hassink is an unpretentious leader for Nemours, our state, and our children.”
Dr. Hassink has been vice president and president of the AAP’s Delaware chapter, vice chair and chair of its Mid-Atlantic District (there are 10 U.S. districts) and a member of its national board of directors. She is currently chair of the advisory committee for the AAP’s Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. As she considers the organization’s highest office, she has a national advocacy agenda in mind which includes advancing the AAP’s Agenda for Children in these four focus areas: early brain development, epigenetics, children and media, and poverty. “We need to engage the business community and policymakers” on those issues, she said, “but most importantly, we have to engage families. The family is critical to a child’s health and must be supported.”
On early brain development: “The first 1,000 days of life are crucial to development. Early influences can change the course of a child’s life forever. We have to do all we can to set kids on the pathway to health.”
On epigenetics: “Although it can’t alter one’s DNA, the intrauterine environment and early infancy can change a child’s disease risk profile. The environment has a profound impact on health along the life course.”
On the media: “We are in a new era of media and communications. Some kids spend the majority of their day on various forms of screen media and devices. We need to understand the impact on children.”
On poverty: “Almost half of U.S. children are born into low income homes which can increase their risk for poor health, dropping out of school, and incarceration. We can’t ignore this fact. We have to act now.”