use, including national media attention, have contributed to the ebb and flow of drug use among adolescents.
States and the federal government have also enacted numerous laws to protect children from injury (e.g., car seat and bike helmet laws) and disease (e.g., requiring immunizations). Infant seat restraints in cars are now used by the majority of young children nationwide, and bike helmets are now common for children when just years ago they were only seen in bicycle races. Immunization protocols are well established, and proof of relevant immunizations is often required as a condition of school enrollment.
Public policy could play a more significant role in mental health promotion and the prevention of MEB disorders. Given the relationship between poverty and MEB disorders (Conger, Ge, et al., 1994; Gutman, McLoyd, and Tokoyawa, 2005; see also Chapter 6) and the fact that the United States has the highest rate of child poverty among 25 economically developed nations (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2001), policies that reduce poverty should have a particularly high priority. Numerous policies can reduce family poverty and its effects, either by increasing available income through such programs as the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment insurance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or federal housing subsidies, or by helping address nutritional needs through such programs as food stamps, the School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Similarly, policies that could contribute to reducing health disparities and differential access to health care services (e.g., Medicaid, expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program), as well as public health policies that minimize harmful environmental factors, such as exposure to neurotoxins (e.g., lead), warrant consideration. Policies that promote increased access to early childhood education programs could set children, particularly impoverished children, on a positive life course. Finally, policies that support families, such as parental or family leave policies, access to quality child care, affordable transportation, recreational areas, and safe neighborhoods, facilitate supportive families and communities.
Policies shifting schools and the juvenile justice system away from the use of punishment and toward the use of positive methods of developing desirable social behavior are also needed. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District recently adopted a policy that requires the implementation of systems of positive reinforcement in schools as an alternative to punishment (Los Angeles Unified School District, 2007). The policy is based in part on empirical evidence that punitive practices increase vandalism and antisocial behavior (Mayer, 1995).
Expanding implementation of relevant public policies should be part of a national implementation strategy to support prevention of MEB disorders and promotion of mental health. At the same time, research on the impact