Monday, March 31, 2008

Heavy Consequences

As the NY Sun reports this morning-on a story that was covered in the other daillies earlier, here and here-NYC has put on an extra 10 million pounds; and the trigger seems to be the draconian ban on smoking. AS the Sun says: "New York City residents are growing obese at a rate nearly three times that of other Americans, prompting some who cited a link between weight gain and smoking cessation to question whether the city's crackdown on smoking may have had an unexpected result."

Now as we would expect city officials, while acknowledging the unfortunate timing of the ban and the excess poundage, were quick to express skepticism about the relationship: "City health and mental hygiene officials acknowledged the timing but said they had no evidence that the crackdown on smoking had caused obesity rates to increase." It good to see that the DOH folks do understand the difference between causality and correlation, but it certainly doesn't stop them from making unwarranted links between fast food and calorie posting.

What's really fascinating here is that all of this weight gain is occurring while the city is becoming more and more intrusive into people's lives. In fact, the study on obesity gains was done by the same DOH that has led the charge to micromanage fast food businesses and to dictate how New Yorkers should live their lives-all in the name of health, the last refuge for scoundrels it seems.

None of this deters the zealots, however, As the NY Post pointed out on Friday: "Health officials are unsure why living in the city no longer provides protection from the obesity epidemic.
"But this is all the more reason we need to move forward with initiatives like the green carts to make sure New Yorkers are getting their fruits and vegetables," Van Wye said."

Just as with school failure, bureaucrats will often use the failure of policies to advocate for an even more aggressive approach: more regulatory intrusion or a greater expenditure of public funds. As the NY Daily News pointed out, the new target is soda: "Obesity and with it diabetes are the only widespread major health conditions that are getting worse in New York City," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. The city fared far worse than the nation, which posted a 6% increase in obesity and flat diabetes rates for those years. Health bigwigs blamed syrupy sodas in part for the city's fat surge, saying that 27% of New Yorkers drink nearly two sodas a day - 300 nutrition-free calories. "When people count calories, they do often forget to include drinks, which can account for a large number of extra calories," said Cathy Nonas, the Health Department's director of physical activity and nutrition."

Will the soda wars be far behind? And can we expect water vendors all over the streets in "underserved areas" where high levels of obesity is being caused it appears by a "Coke epidemic?" All of which points out that the improvement of the body politic and the bodies of New Yorkers may be a coterminous project. A crusade for health needs to begin at the grass roots level, and not be heavily laden with bureaucratic edicts that often lead to dangerous as well as unintended consequences.