It's easy to attack New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his effort to cut back on large-size sugary sodas. This is an issue that immediately became high profile, and has swept the country.
However, before you simply conclude "who does this billionaire mayor think he is anyway," and say this initiative smacks of a nanny state gone wild, I respectfully ask that you hear me out on why Bloomberg should actually be commended for what he is doing. Bloomberg is showing strong conviction. It would be refreshing if President Obama and Mitt Romney were so open on the issues with the American People during this hotly contested presidential election.
First of all, this issue is no laughter matter. Diabetes is often an undiagnosed disease. (That's exactly what happened to me for years.) Many Americans are diabetic, and don't even know it.
What we do know is people are dying every day because of Diabetes-related issues. It is a serious problem in America. A silent killer.
Diabetes is something I know firsthand, and has been the cause of me being hospitalized several times. There were a few occasions over the years when I would miss a week or more of being on television, hosting a nightly political show in New York. That's because my bosses, Steve Paulus and Bernadine Han of NY1, knew I had gone to the doctor and had been immediately hospitalized. They would watch me struggle with my diet -- what I ate, what I drank.
The first thing I must do every day is inject myself, and the last thing every night is inject myself with insulin. There's a Victoza shot in the morning before breakfast to help keep my blood sugar under control, Lantus insulin at night. Let's not forget the daily pills. 1,000 mg of Metformin twice a day, Glimepiride, and I guess I'm one of the fortunate ones, I was recently taken off of Actos.
Let's not forget the prick your own finger with a sharp object checking your blood sugar levels several times a day, (I would do it at my desk at work) the never ending visits to see an endocrinologist, and constantly watching your sugar intake. As a diabetic, I'm not even supposed to eat ketchup or drink regular orange juice which, by the way, has a lot of sugar. I even must watch what fruits I eat.
One argument I have heard regarding this soda issue (sodas larger than 16 ounces is what we are talking about with Bloomberg's argument) is that the mayor shouldn't try to ban sodas, that he should tax sodas like other states have done. I ask you this question. Has taxing cigarettes really slowed down anyone from buying them, especially in our poorer communities?
The sad truth is sugared soda is equivalent to young children who mimic the lyrics of sexually suggestive songs they hear on the radio. The kids have no impact of what they are really doing. They are only singing a song that they like. It's the same with adults and sugar.
Bloomberg says his effort is aimed mostly at poor communities, and I know a thing or two about that, having grown up poor in the Bronx. My beloved grandmother did the best she could to raise me, and her monthly SSI check could only go so far. She had a strict rule, and that was her bills had to be paid. That meant by the 20th of the month, every month, we had very little to eat. Under those circumstances, dietary issues are not priority number one. You go into survival mode, and eat whatever you can.
I remember well as a child, for one quarter each, my friends and I would be able to go to the corner store and purchase a small bag of Wise potato chips and a soda. Back then, we had no clue as to why to soda tasted so good, and we just kept drinking it. It was so good, the soda was almost addictive. I wish I could reverse all of these years. I had no idea that quarter over so many years was doing so much damage to my body.
There is an argument to be made about genetic predisposition to Diabetes, but wake up people. As Americans we are being force-fed sugar, disguised in so many food items, while at the same time, physical education programs are being cut for our sons and daughters. As you read this, HBO has an alarming documentary about obesity with our children about ow kids are gaining more and more weight, and how school gym programs are victims to budget cuts. This, as far as I'm concerned, is criminal. Today, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. and nearly 17 percent of children are obese, according to the National Institutes of Health. We debated this ban on soda last week on RNN-TV, The Richard French Live Show.
When it comes to New York City, the excellent job done by police and record drops in violence and crime are normally noted. (I'm putting aside the controversial issue of stop-and-frisk for this debate.) However, the public should consider Bloomberg's history when it comes to public health issues.
I was not aware of his public health commitment until I observed Bloomberg up close. As the former political anchor of NY1, I was assigned one day to travel with Bloomberg to Baltimore as he was the graduation speaker at Johns Hopkins University. Bloomberg was Johns Hopkins Chair of the board, and quite involved with millions of his own money donated to the university, all dedicated to public health issues. To know his history is to know public health initiatives are nothing new for Bloomberg.
So when Bloomberg says obesity is "the single biggest public health issue in the country,'' you know he really means it.
Here is what he said Friday on the John Gambling WOR New York Radio Show regarding Obesity:
"It's the first disease that's gone from being a rich person's disease to a poor person's disease,'' he continued. "Look at the pictures of the old robber barons with their big stomachs out in the '20s. They were proud that they were fat. They all died young, but they were proud until that. Today it is poor people who are dying much more. And the numbers are just off the charts."
"Nobody is taking away any of your rights," Bloomberg said later in the broadcast. "This way, we're just telling you that's a lot of soda.'
Bloomberg was ridiculed when he instituted the smoking ban in NYC. (In bars, restaurants and public places) That is until a few years later when the city announced smoking related deaths were down in NY.
"You think this was bad?" Bloomberg asked on the radio show. With the smoking ban, "everybody was opposed to it. Today, virtually every major city in America does it ... whole countries!"
News flash here. Coca-Cola, the world's largest soft-drink maker, attacked the proposal in a statement on Thursday.
"New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this,'' the Coca-Cola statement said. "They can make their own choices about beverages they purchase."
Bloomberg has also banned artificial trans fats in restaurant food, and required calorie counts to be posted at fast-food outlets. Can any of us deny both are excellent ideas? Bloomberg also leads a campaign to cut salt in restaurant meals and packaged foods.
I will never forget a few years ago I was covering Bloomberg's announcement of a new hotel coming to the Harlem community. He walked past me, and noticed I was eating a buttered roll. Even with the entire entourage around him of security and staff, Bloomberg stopped, looked me in the eye and said "Dominic, should you really be eating that? Put it down." I remember I thought to myself, "How dare he?" But guess what? Bloomberg was right.
Maybe if Michael Bloomberg was the mayor when I was a kid in NYC, I wouldn't have to now also go take my four blood pressure pills to go with the daily Diabetes regiment.