7 Forbidden Words: Reports About Language Policy at CDC Stirs Controversy, Concern

On December 15 the Washington Post published a story about an alleged word ban at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The report was that the Trump administration was prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.  The list of words was: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

The news spread like wildfire on social media and cable news. Rumors circulated that the “ban” was throughout the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). At the same time, however, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald refuted the story, and the Washington Post updated its original story, noting new developments and nuances and an official statement from HHS:

“HHS and its agencies have not banned, prohibited or forbidden employees from using certain words. Recent media reports appear to be based on confusion that arose when employees misconstrued guidelines provided during routine discussions on the annual budget process. It was clearly stated to those involved in the discussions that the science should always drive the narrative. Any suggestion otherwise is simply not true.”

The Endocrine Society was deeply concerned about the report, but noted equally as important is how much we invest in public health and the continued shortchanging of public health by lawmakers both in Congress and the administration.  For example, lawmakers have not yet agreed on a deal to raise austere spending caps, as the January 19 deadline to enforce sequestration’s across-the-board cuts looms, finalized FY 2018 funding for HHS, nor agreed on how to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Special Diabetes Program, community health centers, or the National Health Service Corps.

The Endocrine Society encouraged Congress to look into this issue and multiple representatives and senators sent letters to HHS to understand the facts of the story. The Society will continue to advocate for CDC and funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund and will keep our members apprised of the situation.


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