Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rivera's Obesity Zoning Gets Respect

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the proposal by City Council Health chairman, Joel Rivera, to consider the use of zoning to restrict the number of fast food restaurants in the city. The article does a good job at examining some of the pro and cons of the issue, and more helpful than most of the pieces that have been done about the problem since reporter Manny Fernandez actually goes with Rivera into his Bronx neighborhood to report on the area's saturation with fast food joints.

What is also brought out nicely is the fact that zoning has already been used in other areas of the country to restrict fast food outlets and, while the restrictions have never been based on a health issue like obesity, there is ample rationale in the zoning laws for doing so. This rationale is underscored by Professor James Hodge from the Bloomberg School of Public Health who points out that the history and foundation of zoning laws in this country are based in large part on the need to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry.

The key rationale in all of this is the spiraling obesity epidemic, a health threat that is particularly acute in neighborhoods like the ones that Rivera represents. This fact is brought home by the report done by Dr. Hodge and his colleagues in conjunction with the Center for Law and the Public Health at John Hopkins and Georgetown. In addition, Rivera credits Dr. Mehmet Oz's pioneering work in this area as an inspiration for his public policy initiative.

Clearly, this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Rivera is exploring holding some kind of obesity summit later in the year and is not ruling out the possibility that it will result in a concrete proposal to restrict the fast food outlets. In the meantime the councilman continues to promote the Health Corps program, a "hearts and minds" alternative to zoning restrictions, that is expanding into more public schools this fall