Last week Mayor Bloomberg announced a New York City Initiative aimed at addressing the growing obesity epidemic. “Reversing the Epidemic: the New York City Obesity Task Force Plan to Prevent and Control Obesity” received attention largely because of its’ recommendations regarding putting limits on the portion sizes of sodas and sweetened drinks, but in reality is a comprehensive report which can serve as a model for all communities grappling with this public health challenge.
Among NYC children ages 6-11, 21 percent are obese. This generation is at risk for premature diabetes, heart disease and death. Long Island is not immune-as a matter of fact there are some communities on LI where the prevalence of obesity may be 25% higher than in NYC. Not only is obesity a health challenge, but it is a threat to our economy by virtue of both direct medical costs and lost worker productivity from obesity related illness.
The NYC Task Force focused on the environmental support of obesity. Food packaging was a major concern. Sugary drinks are the leading cause of excess calorie intake in adults, and are the biggest contributor to the rise in the average daily caloric intake over the past three decades. Structural support for physical activity was also analyzed, as countries with building and architectural codes supportive of walking, biking and public transportation use have lower levels of obesity.
The Report included recommendations from three active workgroups: Food environment, Physical activity/physical design and City Practices. Examples of these are recommendations are:
- Developing “Wellness Councils” in public schools
- Installing more water fountains in schools to encourage water/discourage sugary drinks
- A “school gardens” initiative
- Salad bars in NYC schools
- Adopt the “Move to Improve” initiative
- Establish a maximum size for sugary drinks
- Expand healthy food access in the retail environment
- Establish a center to facilitate architecture and construction which encourages physical activity
- Create a city wide bicycle network
- Offer wellness programs to all NYC employees
- Improve the diagnosis of obesity in hospitals, health clinics and schools
Although we can debate the merits of some of these proposals, the importance of the initiative is the proposal to treat obesity as a public health issue, and to approach it as a societal problem with roots in our neighborhood and environment.
Hopefully, communities throughout the country, including Long Island, will take note of New York City’s plans, and discuss how schools, businesses and politicians can work together to fight the epidemic of obesity.