Blog | Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Public health should be apolitical

You can be for freedom. You can be for smaller government that intrudes less. You can be for lower taxes. You can be for most anything, but if you're interested in improving the sagging health of American citizens, get on Michael Bloomberg's wheel.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bar city residents from using food stamps to buy sugary soft drinks. It turns out that last year $135 million in food stamp money was used for the consumption of these obesity-fostering beverages in NYC alone.

Mr. Bloomberg is morphing into a real-world public health super star. Previously, he was a pioneer in banning smoking in restaurants and bars. They said it could not be done, or that it wouldn't work. Well, the naysayers were dead wrong. Now public smoking bans are commonplace and, backed by objective data, are accepted as having prevented thousands of heart attacks.

More recently, Mr. Bloomberg has championed a ban on the use of inflammatory and artery-toxic trans fats in city restaurants. Although trans fats bans have found traction harder to come by, my guess is that similarly favorable data will be forthcoming.

To the cynics and naysayers that feel government should not tell us how to live, I say: "Don't overthink this one." Being against government-sponsored soda consumption is a no-brainer. Public health should be apolitical.

All can surely agree that an advanced and kind society should have safety nets for those less endowed by nature and nurture. But we should also find common ground on the idea that the safety net shouldn't be dangerous to those it's supposed to help. No one is suggesting that soda be banned, rather just not state-supported.

I'm with Mr. Bloomberg, strongly. And being so isn't mean.


[Disclosure: I love Coke. An edited excerpt from the above post: "In the heat of the summer, immediately after a hard training ride or life force-sapping bike race, there are few more pleasurable ways to replete the hollowness of glycogen depletion than an ice-cold Coke."]

This post by John Mandrola, MD, appeared at Get Better Health, a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.