Being healthy is a highly personal experience: Self-care emphasizes the self, food choices are often born from how ingredients make you feel, and to meditate is to tune out the rest of the world—even for just a few minutes.
But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a political one, too.
Think about it this way: The NRA has five million members; meanwhile, it’s estimated that between 50 and 80 million people in the US alone can be labeled LOHAS—a demographic used to describe Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. (If you’ve ever had to wait in line at a Whole Foods, you know just how many people are into organic produce and toxin-free beauty products.)
Imagine the power this group could wield if it organized just a fraction of those people who espouse healthy living as a guiding principle.
“The wellness community sort of gives people an opt-out: If I just take care of myself and eat organic, I’m doing my part,” says Kerri Kelly, founder and president of CTZNWELL, a non-partisan group whose mission is to foster a politically engaged community out of health-seekers. “There’s a consciousness shift that needs to happen to see that our well-being is intrinsically tied to everyone.”
Step one? Making your voice heard on election day. (November 8, 2016—mark your calendar, if you haven’t already!) And that goes way beyond the presidential race: Local elections can have just as profound of an impact, whether it’s through GMO labeling (after all, it was a Vermont law that led major food brands to get way more transparent) or how much women have to pay for tampons (New York officially axed the tax on feminine hygiene products earlier this year).
The team at Well+Good identified 12 wellness-related issues that we think are vital for leading a happy, healthy life. (There are many more topics that we support—from the push for peace to increasing minimum wage—but weren’t able to include them all. CTZNWELL has a super-comprehensive voter guide, if you’re looking to go deeper!) Here, we break down why they’re crucial, how they impact you, and what you can do to make them an electoral priority. Check in with the candidates who will be appearing on the ballot on November 8, see where they stand on these topics, and then make sure to cast your vote!
Ready to make your voice heard? Check out the Well+Good voter guide, below.
Health care for all
The issue: All Americans have the right to health care—without denial of coverage or additional fees—whether they’re a woman, have a pre-existing condition, or work somewhere that doesn’t provide insurance.
What it means: In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. It was a step forward, but more needs to be done to ensure that insurance is truly affordable—all while protecting the progress made by the bill. That includes putting an end to the discriminatory “gender tax” (some health plans charged women as much as 80 percent more for insurance than men), preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions (which, yes, included pregnancy), and making contraceptives available at no cost to the patient.
Why we care: Health care is a right, not a luxury—and should be available and affordable to all Americans. After all, how can you live your healthiest life if you can’t take preventative and proactive care of your body?
Where it matters: On a national level. In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton has said that she would not only support universal health care, but expand it to include a public option, while Donald Trump has made clear that a priority for his administration would be repealing the ACA. Regardless of who is elected President, Congress will definitely be faced with determining how the ACA is expanded or replaced, meaning that members of the House and Senate will be weighing in on this topic—ask the candidates running in your state where they stand on affordable health care.
Beauty ingredient regulation
The issue: There’s currently no governmental regulation making sure the ingredients in our beauty products are safe. The Personal Care Products Safety Act is looking to change that.
What it means: Unlike other countries (including Canada, Japan, and those in the European Union) that have banned thousands of unsafe chemicals from personal care products, the US only has 11 prohibited. The last legislation regulating personal care products was passed in 1938, and lots of research has been done since then (showing the serious side effects to your health if you apply these chemicals onto your skin), but no action has yet been taken—by the government, at least. The proposed act (PCPSA) calls for five ingredients to be reviewed each year and, if found harmful, products are to immediately stop formulating their products with the ingredient.
Why we care: Having unregulated chemicals in your beauty products can lead to serious health issues—some commonly used ingredients are known carcinogens (like parabens) and endocrine disruptors, while others are skin irritants for many people. Currently, the FDA has no authority to check ingredients in personal care products. The PCPSA is the first (and a very important) step in getting dangerous chemicals vetted before we slather them onto our bodies (our skin absorbs 60 percent of what we put on it, after all).
Where it matters: The US Congress. The PCPSA is currently being heard on the Senate side, and a parallel effort will be introduced into the House soon. That means your state’s two senators and your district’s congressperson will have the opportunity to not only vote on the bill, but to make sure that it gets a hearing in the first place.
Paid family leave
The issue: How much time people can take off from work after the birth of a child or while taking care of a sick loved one—and whether they’ll be supported financially during this time.
What it means: The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave for its citizens. Establishing a paid family leave policy would ensure that both men and women are guaranteed income while away from work for an extended period of time, whether that’s to bond with a newborn or adopted child, care for an ill family member, or recover from a serious health issue.
Why we care: The result of no formal paid family leave policy? Higher stress and worse health outcomes for mom, dad, and baby, studies show. After all, scraping together a few weeks of banked vacation and sick days—or maybe even saving up a nest egg just so you can take unpaid time off with your baby—doesn’t exactly reduce anxiety during a pregnancy, when you already have plenty to worry about. Plus, all people (whether it’s a mom who just gave birth, a gay couple who adopted a child, or a single woman caring for a sick parent) should be able to access these benefits.
Where it matters: Both the presidential race and state-wide races. Trump’s plan calls for six weeks of paid leave for mothers only, if their employer does not provide it. Clinton’s plan is more gender-neutral and all-purpose: It would guarantee 12 weeks of leave for mothers and fathers of newborns, or 12-week paid leave can be used for other family emergencies: caring for sick children, elderly parents, or other family members, for instance.
Meanwhile, mandated paid family leave is the law in California, Washington, New Jersey, Rhode Island—and now New York, which this year enacted the most comprehensive policy in the nation. If your state isn’t on there, your state representatives and governor could have a say on it come 2017. Find out who your state rep is and ask them where they stand on paid family leave.
Healthy options for food stamps
The issue: For the 45 million Americans who rely on SNAP, having access to healthy foods can be a problem as many live in food deserts.
What it means: Being able to use food stamps at the farmers’ market is a tremendous step forward. The next one? Being able to use them online.
Why we care: According to the USDA, 23.5 million low-income Americans live more than a mile away from a large grocery store. Considering that only 30 percent of low-income Americans have access to a car—but 74 percent have internet access—being able to buy healthy food online using food stamps could make a huge difference.
Where it matters: At the national level. Democrats in the Senate have spoken out about the importance of being able to use food stamps online while Republicans have stayed silent; electing senators who support this could help push this bill forward in 2017. In the presidential race, Clinton has a plan for ensuring more local produce is available for SNAP recipients at their local farmers’ markets. (Trump has not yet weighed in on the issue.)
Protection of a woman’s right to choose
The issue: Upholding a woman’s right to choose, as protected under Roe v. Wade, and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which outlaws taxpayer funding of abortions.
What it means: Since 1973, the US has protected a woman’s right to an abortion. However, a woman on Medicaid can obtain an abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or when pregnancy endangers her life—a policy established in 1976 when the Hyde Amendment was passed. It’s estimated that one in four women are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they can’t afford medical intervention.
Why we care: In an era where lawmakers have become increasingly aggressive about using public health as a political football—take a look at Texas’ rising maternal mortality rates if you think the abortion fight isn’t affecting care of pregnant women as well—the repeal of the Hyde Amendment would be the first counter move aimed at giving all women, regardless of their means, more control of their health decisions.
Where it matters: Both the presidential and congressional races. Clinton supports repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and this stance is now a part of the Democratic Party platform. In addition, she has stated that she would nominate Supreme Court judges who would continue to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision. Trump not only wants to make the Hyde Amendment permanent law, he favors outlawing abortion altogether—he even formed a “Pro-Life Coalition” and made some firm promises, including defunding Planned Parenthood, banning late-term abortions (even in cases of rape or incest), and stocking the Supreme Court with judges who are opposed to abortion. To overturn the Hyde Amendment would, however, require an act of Congress—which is why it’s important to ask candidates where they stand on the issue.
Cleaning ingredient labeling
The issue: The current law does not require cleaning products to list their ingredients—hence why the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act (H.R. 5205) is a major step towards making sure we don’t have harmful chemicals hidden in the products we use all over our homes/offices/anywhere we like to keep clean.
What it means: This legislation would require all household and industrial cleaning product manufacturers to disclose all ingredients used in their products on their labels and websites. Not only would it result in greater transparency, but could also lead to better-for-you products. “What tends to happen is when companies decide voluntarily to list ingredients, they often clean up their formulations beforehand, since no company wants to let its consumers know it’s using carcinogenic chemicals,” says Jeffrey Hollender, founder and CEO of Sustain Natural and former founder and CEO of Seventh Generation.
Why we care: The least consumers can ask for is transparency when it comes to the products they’re using. Without ingredient lists, manufacturers can hide all sorts of toxic chemicals in them—which can of course lead to a range of health problems. According to a report done this year by EWG assessing thousands of cleaning products, roughly three-fourths of cleaners contain ingredients that may have worrisome respiratory health effects (among many more unsettling findings).
Where it matters: In the Senate and House. Ask the candidates whether they’d support the bill in 2017 (and send a message to your current representatives now).
Repeal of the tampon tax
The issue: The majority of states consider feminine hygiene products as luxuries, rather than necessities—which means that they have a higher sales tax applied to them.
What it means: The majority of women are paying an extra-high tax on essential feminine health products as if they were a luxury instead of the necessity that they are (like medical supplies and groceries). Only five states don’t tax tampons and pads, while others (like New York and California) have proposed ending the tax, but have had issues—California ended up vetoing it because of budget issues, and some women in New York are still being taxed despite a recent ban on it.
Why we care: Eliminating the tampon tax would be a major step in women’s equality—you’re essentially paying extra for being a woman. Anyone who has ever experienced a period can tell you that there’s nothing luxurious about relying on tampons or pads to go about your business. (Besides, there’s something seriously wrong if Viagra is considered an essential in the same states that slap a higher tax on tampons—which is in fact happening.)
Where it matters: This is a state-level issue. Reach out to the candidates running for local office—be it your state’s Senate, Assembly, or Governor’s office—and ask them where they stand on ending the tampon tax.
The issue: Even with the recent passing of the Mandatory GMO Labeling Act, there is still no clear, government-mandated way for consumers to know if their food contains genetically modified organisms.
What it means: In July, President Obama signed a bill requiring foods with GMOs to be labeled as such. The problem? It excludes meat and eggs, and requires consumers to scan a QR code to find out if the food they are about to buy has GMOs—it isn’t clearly spelled out in text. Because of the confusion, it’s now been dubbed the DARK Act—Denying Americans the Right to Know.
Why we care: Knowing what’s in our food should be a basic human right, but the government is standing in the way of transparency.
Where it matters: The best way to fight back and ensure that a new, clear bill is passed is to elect leaders who care enough about GMOs to push label laws forward—even if billion dollar companies like Monsanto don’t like it. This comes into play the biggest on a national level, as national laws overrule state laws. (Some states, like Vermont, have successfully put into place their own label laws.) While neither candidate has focused on GMOs while campaigning, Clinton has spoken out in favor of GMOs, while Trump has only mentioned the issue once, in a retweet, blaming GMOs in corn for his low poll number in Iowa. (He later apologized, blaming an intern.)
Complete access to reproductive care
The issue: State-level regulations on women’s health care
What it means: Since abortion is legal, many anti-choice lawmakers are fighting the abortion battle at the state level, with red tape that effectively limits women’s choices. This isn’t necessarily new—remember the “transvaginal ultrasound” debate of 2012? This election year it’s all about so-called TRAP laws (or, targeted regulation of abortion providers), which create more burdensome regulations for doctors who perform abortions than those who do not. And in Indiana, they’re regulating behavior beyond the doctor’s office: A bill signed into law by Trump’s running mate, Governor Mike Pence, this year requires burial or cremation of every fetus that is miscarried or aborted. And no, mothers do not have to pay for the funerals (as a runaway meme states)—but they are required to have them, creating a bizarre, state-sanctioned mourning process. Who does pay? The clinics and hospitals that treat the women—another piece of red tape that drives up costs and pushes good doctors out.
Why we care: Keeping the government out of your relationship with your gyno is a must. Between 10–25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, for starters—making Indiana’s law, for instance, incredibly broad even before you factor in terminated pregnancies. And requiring funerals? How does that work? Enforcing these laws—seemingly just to make women suffer—is a colossal waste of police officers’ time. The Supreme Court has begun to wade into this issue this year, however, throwing out a Texas law that placed new, expensive requirements on any clinic or hospital that provides abortions, stating in the majority opinion: “There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure.”
Where it matters: In state and local races. Find out where your representatives stand on things like waiting periods (which 27 states now require), parental notification rules, and even limits on what clinics are allowed to say to patients—all are state-level efforts to legislate the doctor-patient relationship.
The issue: Sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are the number one source of added sugar, and economists say a soda tax could lower sales of these drinks by 10 percent—a big step towards reducing obesity in the US.
What it means: Adding a small tax to sugar-loaded soft drinks has proved effective, lowering consumption by 20 percent in cities were a law is in place.
Why we care: The more incentives Americans have to cut back on sugar, the less our country will be plagued with health issues ranging from obesity and diabetes to chronic inflammation and high cholesterol. The biggest city to enact such a tax is Philadelphia, which earlier this year voted to add a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on any drinks with added sugar—with the revenue brought in going to fund good-for-the-community offerings (think expanded pre-K and more libraries) along with tax cuts for small businesses that sell healthy beverages.
Where it matters: The city level—that includes city council members and city mayors. Ask where the candidates in your city stand on enacting a soda tax.
Comprehensive sex education
The issue: Offering students comprehensive sex education that not only talks about abstinence, but also discusses birth control and family planning options.
What it means: The pregnancy rate among American teens reached a historic low this year, thanks to increased availability of birth control and teens having less sex than earlier generations. In other words: hooray! But when you zoom in, there’s another trend: States with abstinence-only programs have the highest teen pregnancy rates.
Why we care: A healthy sex life is part of a healthy life overall. And traumatic experiences—whether it’s pregnancy, rape, or sexually transmitted diseases like HPV and HIV—are compounded when they happen simply because you don’t have facts that are eminently available.
Where it matters: On the local level. There is no national requirement for sex education, but most states teach human sexuality in some form in their public schools. Find out who your state rep is where they stand on the issue.
Get more info: The National Conference of State Legislatures website has information on all the sex education bills introduced this year.
What it means: Food policy laws need to be reformed to ensure methods are safe to both workers and consumers, humane, and won’t have a negative longterm effect on the environment.
Why we care: If these issues aren’t resolved now, greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, and water pollution will become even bigger problems. Besides, supporting local farmers puts money back into local economies—all while promoting organic-minded practices that keep our food supply clean.
Where it matters: At the national level, where environmental and wage laws have the most impact. Both Clinton and Trump have teams advising them on agricultural issues, but while Trump has not yet made a plan public, Clinton is making it a priority.
Not yet registered to vote? If the deadline hasn’t passed yet in your state, do it now! And if this election is freaking you out, here’s how to stress-proof your mind in under five minutes.