For Women’s Health: It’s Time for the National Academy of Medicine to Call For Fossil Fuel Divestment in the US Health Sector

By Marya Zlatnik, MD and Jane van Dis, MD

As lifelong medical professionals specializing in women’s health, we call upon the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) to lead the US health sector on climate and health justice, and  divest its financial holdings from fossil fuels.

As NAM convenes for its annual 2023 meeting with a focus on women’s health, the health community must consider numerous studies documenting fossil fuel extraction and projects exacerbating profound global gender and race health inequities. This includes higher risks of breast cancers, ovarian disease and adverse birth outcomes like premature births, stillbirth, decreased birth weights, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, and high-risk pregnancies. 

Together, we urge NAM to divest from the fossil fuel corporations poisoning our communities and endangering future generations. Our fights for health care for all, bodily sovereignty, and climate justice are interconnected and intertwined – it’s time for NAM to lead. 

In the US, private, corporate-run health systems invest an estimated $10 billion in fossil fuels. In our commitment to First, Do No Harm, it’s unacceptable that the health sector is propping up the root cause of what the World Health Organization calls “the single greatest health threat facing humanity.”

Ignoring the fossil fuel investments made by institutions under NAM’s purview renders impotent the stated objective to “reduce climate-related health inequities.”  

The direct level of financial support to the fossil fuel industry by health systems across the US is shocking and cannot remain ignored by the nation’s preeminent medical organization. In April, a groundbreaking report published by and endorsed by dozens of organizations including Physicians for Social Responsibility, revealed billions of fossil fuel investments made by major private health systems across the US, including direct production investments in the biggest fossil fuel producers on Earth by Exxon, Shell, BP, Suncor, and others.  

As medical professionals, we see the blatant contradiction of these fossil fuel investments sickening our communities, and are joining the call for health sector fossil fuel divestment.  

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine puts it succinctly: “It’s Time For the Health Sector to Stop Bankrolling the Fossil Fuel Industry.” Similar calls for health sector divestment have appeared in The Lancet, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, the Los Angeles Times, and more. 

The public expects and deserves better climate leadership from the National Academy of Medicine, as proven through the more than 75,000 letters sent to NAM leadership around its 2022 annual meeting. 

This isn’t a novel request. Nearly 1600 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuels, yet the US health sector is glaringly absent.

There’s a growing list of medical associations that have committed to divest from fossil fuels, including the American Medical Organization, the Canadian Medical Association, the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners, and the British Medical Association.

It’s time the National Academy of Medicine display the leadership expected of it in the health sector. 

The words of NAM President Victor Dzau echo this Call to Action

“Dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of the health care ecosystem would have immense health, social, and economic benefits. Though there is increasing momentum in this direction, much more must be done to urgently activate all parts of the sector to decarbonize.  The time for leadership, commitment, and action is now”

It’s time NAM puts those words to action. The health sector divested from the tobacco industry before. It’s time to live up to the fundamental ethos of healthcare – First, Do No Harm – and divest from fossil fuels.  


Marya Zlatnik, MD, is professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Reproductive Sciences at University of California, San Francisco with a specialization in maternal fetal medicine and high-risk pregnancies.  

Jane van Dis, MD, is assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester and Co-Founder of OBGYNs for Sustainable Future

DISCLAIMER: The authors’ views are theirs as individual medical specialists; they are not representing the organizations they work for.