The Politics of Obesity: Is Bloomberg a Hero or an Idiot?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, is popular with some, hated by others. The three-term mayor has declared a war on obesity and he doesn't care if he has to embarrass his own constituents to get them to comply. From printing calorie counts on menus to most recently banning large size sodas from the city, he has come up with a myriad of ways to get New Yorkers to live more healthfully ... whether they want to or not. And it's working. Despite the grousing, the childhood obesity rate for New York City has dropped by five percent, for younger kids, it's dropped by 10 percent. There are 1.1 million children in the city's public school system, and the most recent survey I could find said 24% of students between kindergarten and fifth grade are obese ... that's a LOT of kids. I'm sure Bloomberg could care less if you're giving him a hard time about the size of your soda ... he's a business person with a heart, and at the end of the day, declining diabetes numbers means savings for his city and longer lives for its residents. Pretty hard to argue against what he's doing without sounding like a selfish, callous bastard. Nanny State.  Freedom of Choice.  This is the United States, not a police state ... Yes, yes it is. We have the right to freely choose to kill ourselves slowly with an onslaught of processed, fried, sugary crap. But ... I'm going to take a second and remind you of hairspray. Yes, hairspray, and all the other aerosols that we were merrily blasting away in our bathrooms and bedrooms across the United States.  Sure our hair was a bit sticky, but it looked the way we wanted it to, so who cares? Until that big ozone hole started happening, skin cancer rates jumped, and the government decided your hairspray wasn't as important as the destruction of the planet and its citizens. A whole bunch of aersol products were banned and we managed to "heal" the ozone layer. (Don't get me started on global warming ...) This was an example where the greater good was more important than individual choice. It was something that was taken for granted, re-evaluated, and meant our lives were subtly changed for the overall benefit of all.
Giving up a can of hairspray might not seem as big a hardship as a 32-ounce soda, but that's your sugar addiction talking, not your sense of reason.
Bloomberg is pioneering a new set of legislation guidelines that appear to be helping turn the tide on the war against obesity. So far, he seems to be getting the best results. Many were aghast when anti-smoking laws started popping up everywhere and now they're nearly universal. People complained about losing their individual rights, but we've become healthier as a nation because of it. Lung cancer and smoking rates have both dropped which has helped us to live longer and taken some burden off of our already taxed healthcare system.  (Just imagine if lung cancer and diabetes rates had continued to climb ...) Is Bloomberg an idiot or a hero? Do the means justify the results? I say yes, but what do you say? Let me know if you think legislating obesity is a good idea or not, and what types of laws you would put in place.  In case you're curious, here's where the Presidential candidates stand on obesity ... you might be surprised at their perspectives. Cheers, Lisa

photo credit: Rubenstein


About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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4 Responses to The Politics of Obesity: Is Bloomberg a Hero or an Idiot?

  1. Tammy November 2, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    While my inner teenager hates being told what to do, it is hard to dispute that it is working. I hope that the successes continue, and that people like Jamie Oliver who fight for better nutrition in the meals we serve in our schools (more fruits and veg, less starch) are able to work miracles despite ever shrinking budgets.

  2. Phil Earnhardt November 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I have yet to see any peer-reviewed papers showing the improvements claimed in this article or attributing the cause to Bloomberg’s programs. Where are those numbers coming from, and why is the author confident of the causality?

  3. Joe Cascio November 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    There’s no single answer one way or the other on Nanny State laws. Sometimes, it does seem very overbearing and unnecessary to limit people’s personal choices that only affect them. I wouldn’t call myself libertarian in the “I do what I want so screw you” sense, but I do think any law that restricts people personal choices that affect only them should be very carefully considered. The tough call is when what seem to be personal choices start to affect others. For example consider smoking vs serving rare hamburgers. Smoking obviously and provably affects other people and rather directly. Eating a rare-cooked burger would seem to affect only you and no one else, certainly not directly. And sometimes outlawing personal choices actually creates a criminal enterprise system where there doesn’t have to be one, like drugs. Did we learn nothing from Prohibition?

    Then there are the issues like junk food that create population level problems of obesity and cardiovascular disease which burden everyone due to a “rising tide” effect. It’s not one person’s fault but rather a cumulative indirect effect.

    Some are easy calls like rare burgers or raw egg in caesar salad. Or corporate welfare laws pushed by industries seeking to have non-use of their products made illegal like for instance the light-bulb debacle which sought to create an artificial demand for CFL light bulbs by outlawing their competition, or genetically engineered corn protection. Those are excuses for legislating profit masquerading as social good.

    So clearly I don’t have an easy one-size-fits-all answer to this. As far as the Big Gulp law, it seems to me to fall into the rising tide, cumulative indirect effect category, the tough one.

  4. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Tammy, I hear you … it does feel like the hall monitor catching you without a pass … but, yes if the numbers are moving in the right direction then we should carefully keep pushing levers and see if we can keep them going in the right direction. L–

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