You don’t have to be a New Yorker to find yourself interested in the current mayoral election. Recently, the frontrunner was (once again) reported to have shared private pictures of himself with women other than his wife. Next, the frontrunner was a gay, married woman with a supposed penchant for teal toe polish. Honestly, I can’t tell you who else is running, much less anything about the guy currently in the lead, but who really cares with these colorful characters getting most of the limelight.
As entertained as I am by the current election (I can say that because I don’t live in New York and it’s not my civic responsibility to take this all too seriously – right?), I’m also saddened that Mayor Bloomberg’s days of reign are numbered. Although I’ve never met Michael Bloomberg, I feel as though we are kindred spirits. We obviously both have control issues and we’d both like to keep people from drinking so much soda.
But seriously, Bloomberg has done quite a bit to force New Yorkers to focus on their health. As a health psychologist, I applaud his efforts, even the so-far unsuccessful big soda ban. I understand why people find him obnoxious and annoying. No one wants to be told what to do – especially when you know the person telling you what to do is right – and especially when said person is a government official who may be able to actually force you to do what you know you should but don’t want to.
Take the early Bloomberg-sponsored bans on smoking. They made New York among the first major cities to prohibit people from smoking in restaurants and bars. (Remember those days when people smoked everywhere? Not just restaurants and bars, but offices, hospitals, and airplanes were all deemed acceptable venues for lighting up). Because second hand smoke makes innocent bystanders victims, these bans were ultimately more easily accepted than some of Bloomberg’s later efforts. But, that didn’t deter him and he started a trend that has pushed most smokers outdoors and many to quit altogether.
Among the next issues Bloomberg addressed came in 2007 with the ban on use of trans-fats at all restaurants. Many people weren’t thrilled with this idea, particularly those who owned a restaurant (or many of them, a la McDonald’s). However, some data suggests that the ban has significantly reduced the trans-fat intake of consumers, most of whom are completely unaware that their food is now devoid of the potentially artery-clogging ingredient.
Once you cut down on fat, it makes sense to focus on calories next – right? In 2008, it became law that restaurants must post calorie information on their menus. As the New York City government documents remind us, “Just 100 extra calories every day adds up to 10 pounds a year.” Unfortunately, data has not yet surfaced to suggest that this calorie information is usually accurate, much less motivating people to change their eating behaviors. However, I stick to the principle that knowledge is power and I know that I no longer buy pumpkin bread at Starbucks now that I see it has nearly 400 calories per slice.
There’s a lot that has been written about the initiative to limit soda intake in New York City (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/opinion/three-cheers-for-the-nanny-state.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 for one of my favorites). So, I’ll save my many thoughts on soda for now and look forward to talking about blue bikes later.
If I had the money and power that Mayor Bloomberg has, I would like to think that I’d be brave enough to push all the health initiatives he has in his 11+ years as mayor. We’d all be better off if we smoked less, consumed less trans-fat and fewer calories, drank less soda, and rode bikes to work (even if they are ugly blue bikes). We all know this, and yet we resist the “nanny state.” We want to make these good decisions for ourselves. But, then we don’t make them. And, when no one makes the good decisions, it is harder for all of us to make the good decisions. If everyone smokes in the hospital waiting room, why shouldn’t we? If everyone else gets their money worth by ordering the Big Gulp, why should we limit ourselves to 12 ounces? If everyone else takes a cab, why should we ride a bike?
Doing what’s good for us is hard. Having others help us makes it easier. I like to think that Bloomberg is, at his core, a man who wants to help other people make the right choices – for the sake of their own health and for the sake of community health. But, what do I know? Maybe, I have him figured out all wrong. Maybe he’s just an egotistical politician with big cajones. But, hey, if you have big cajones, better to use them for good then to send pictures of them to others.
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