THE BLOG
12/23/2014 11:00 am ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

At Christmas, I Am Grateful for Good Leadership

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The holiday season encourages me to reflect on the significant events in our family. A new marriage, a baby born, new projects and initiatives launched, and in my case, the outstanding achievements of my brother, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo. Growing up in a political family, I soon learned that what happens in our home, school, neighborhood and government has a profound effect on us all. As a physician and cancer prevention advocate, I strive to educate and promote strategies that will reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Teaching children to eat foods that will enhance their health, and offering them high-quality vegetables, fruits and whole grains in school lunches, have a profound effect on our children's futures. I applaud those members of Congress who support higher nutritional standards for better quality school lunches for our children.

HPV vaccines for children and adolescents is an important way to prevent cervical, anal, penile, and some head and neck cancers. Parents should be sure to have their children vaccinated.

For children and adults, protecting skin from the harmful effects of the sun with sunblock, and avoiding indoor tanning, help prevent skin cancer.

Cigarette smoking remains a major cause of lung cancer, and other cancers, and smokers can be helped to quit.

Alcohol raises the risk for cancer, and so drinking wine or hard liquor should be done in moderation, if at all.

Being physically active reduces the risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. In my book, A World Without Cancer, I offer many practical ways that we can prevent cancer in our daily lives.

Graham Colditz, M.D., DrPH, a highly respected cancer researcher and prevention advocate, tells us that more than 50 percent of all cancer is preventable.

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen of MD Anderson, Dr. David Katz at Yale, Dr. Walter Willet at Harvard, and acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, and New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker also contribute greatly to cancer prevention efforts, These are some of the leaders that I am grateful for this Christmas.

Harmful chemicals in our environment, household cleaners, personal care products and cosmetics remain as silent and insidious risk factors for cancer. While we wait for Congress to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, (the only major U.S. environmental law that has never been brought up to date), we can protect our families and ourselves by reading labels, and avoiding harmful chemicals.

Recently, hydrofracking, a method of extracting natural gas from shale deposits, has received considerable attention. On December 19, 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a ban on hydrofracking in New York State.

Citing "significant public health risks" and "red flag" health issues, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker compared fracking to the impact of secondhand cigarette smoke, which required many years of scientific study to prove its harmful effects. Joe Martens, the environmental conservation commissioner explained that the high cost of supervision required to ensure the safety of fracking procedures would not be economically feasible.

This important decision by Governor Cuomo and key state officials is an example of responsible and courageous leadership. These kinds of decisions have far-reaching impact on the health and safety of our children and grandchildren. As a New Yorker, I am grateful for the outstanding leadership that has made this possible. In 1989, my father Mario M. Cuomo, another courageous governor of New York, ensured that Shoreham, a proposed nuclear plant on Long Island, would never open because it was impossible to protect Long Island residents in case of a nuclear accident.

Governor Mario Cuomo also supported the nation's first mandatory seat belt law, which has saved many lives. Affectionately referred to as "52 and 56," Governor Andrew Cuomo (the 56th NYS governor) and former Governor Mario Cuomo (the 52nd NYS governor) lead with integrity, intelligence, compassion and commitment. These two governors exemplify New York State's official motto, which is "Excelsior," a Latin word meaning "higher," or "ever upward."

The Cuomo family's dedication to public service and public health has inspired me. Through my efforts as a board member of Less Cancer, cancer prevention efforts are better understood and accepted. Bill Couzens, the founder of Less Cancer, is working to protect public health. Looking forward to 2015, I am hopeful that we will, as a nation, support lifestyle choices and leaders that will support a healthier, safer place to live. We can all aspire to achieve a world without cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Excelsior!