We Love Bloomberg’s Big Apple

Mayor Bloomberg has been all over the news lately for shaking things up in New York. His recent ban on super-sized sodas sent the media and libertarians into a tizzy but if you listened very closely you would’ve also heard a collective cheer rise up from the people who work in public health. You see, New York is dealing with a big, big problem – called diabetes. In just ten years, from 1997 – 2007, the rate of diabetes doubled. And that kind of growth – in a disease that is largely preventable – requires serious action.

In BC, just as in New York and other jurisdictions all around the world, we are experiencing a similar rise in diabetes and other chronic diseases – that are largely preventable. Reining in the monster-sized vessels of sugar-water to a 16oz serving (which still has 49g of sugar) isn’t going to control diabetes in itself but… it is one part of the equation.

The Journal of the American Medical Association identified reducing the amount of sugary drinks we consume as possibly the best single opportunity to curb the epidemic of unhealthy weights . US research shows that many common fast foods including soft drinks, salty snacks, hamburgers and desserts began increasing in size in the 1970s, rose sharply in the 1980s, and have continued to grow. This trend parallels the epidemic of unhealthy weights around the world. It’s also likely part of what motivated New York’s requirement for chain restaurants to label menus with information on calories.

Burn Calories, Not ElectrictyBut that’s not all they’re doing in NYC – Karen Lee, deputy director at the New York City Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, explained how they are using Active Design Guidelines to make it easier for New Yorkers to be active in a plenary at the Canadian Pubic Health Association’s annual conference this past June. I love the ‘Burn Energy Not Calories’ signs they’ve been using to encourage stair usage – and 50% more people do.

New York has also invested to get more people cycling in the city and it has. Commuter cycling increased by 26% between 2008 and 2009 and more than doubled since 2005. This pays off in more ways than one. In a list of the co-benefits of walk-able and bike-able neighbourhoods, Lee includes the 10% savings in water and sewer services, 6.6% savings in road costs as well as the air quality improvements.

They are also trying to make it easier for more folks to eat their fruits and veggies with farmer’s market coupons, green bodegas and incentives for retailers to sell produce in under-served areas. This is important because type 2 diabetes (in BC) is roughly double the rate among people with low incomes compared to those with higher incomes.

We’re not the only ones who would call New York “the apple of my eye”, an editorial in the Edmonton Journal recently praised the investments they’ve made in prevention that are now starting to pay off.

Don’t be seduced by the false logic that because New York is big and American that we can’t learn from what they’ve done. You don’t have to be big to think big.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
July 2012


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