The Mayor of New York Wants You To Take the Stairs


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an executive order yesterday asking agencies to encourage employees to use the stairs  and “smart design strategies” for new construction and renovations.  He’s also proposing the improvement of stair accessibility and visibility.

From the New York Times dispatch yesterday:

“I’m not here to tell you how to live,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference, adding that New Yorkers live close to three years more than the national average and three years longer than they did a dozen years ago. “But we must be doing something right.

The effort to bring attention back to the stairs follows a series of steps by Mr. Bloomberg to improve the general health of New Yorkers, a defining feature of his 12-year tenure. It started as far back as 2003, when Mr. Bloomberg outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants, and eventually at parks and public beaches. Then he banned the use of trans fats in restaurants and forced food chains to publish the calorie count for their standard menu items. This was coupled with pushes to lower sodium consumption, reduce the din of the city and encourage alternative forms of transportation like biking.

Now, the mayor is charting a comprehensive approach to city planning and design that could tackle chronic disease and make New York a more livable city.

Mr. Bloomberg said a new nonprofit organization, the Center for Active Design, would promote and advise on strategies that encourage daily physical activity and access to healthy food. One such strategy has to do with making the staircase a more prominent part in the design of a new building or retrofitting an old staircase to ensure that it stays open, clean and well lighted.

Bloomberg  On his own website detailing the plan, Bloomberg estimates the efforts will save the equivalent of 500,000 pounds of weight among New Yorkers each year.

CNN dubbed the move “visionary,” Hank Cardello at Forbes noted in March that some felt similar Bloomberg  initiatives — like a soda ban — were “overwrought nannyism.”   In 2008, The Economist examined the idea of governments intervening in efforts for weight loss and smoking, and how they are received, and presented this conclusion: “It would be easier to advocate big changes if it were clear which ones are effective.”

On a local scale in Pittsburgh, healthcare giant UPMC announced that employees would be banned from smoking on their shifts — even if off property starting in 2014, prompting outrage.  The Boy Scouts of America prohibited overweight scouts from attending its national Jamboree. It’s a different scenario, sure, UPMC and the Boy Scouts aren’t governmental agencies, but the debate is the same: Who can — and should — step in to make a people healthier? And how far does it go?

I was struck by this letter to Bloomberg from Charles D’Angelo, a formerly obese man. In it, he tells Bloomberg his soda ban (which failed) wasn’t going to be effective. In fact, the issue isn’t the portion size — it’s the education AROUND the portion size.

I have to agree —  and would expand that to include there has to be education about what’s IN the portion as well. My father, a relatively healthy and active 63-year-old, recently went to a nutritionist to “check in” of sorts. He wanted to lose some weight — he’s not overweight but wants to stay on top of his health. I commend him for that and being proactive. I’ve noticed his healthier choices — splitting entrees or ordering an appetizer portions, more salads with vinaigrette, working out in the morning before work and giving up his beloved M&M habit.

He took up golf again, as an effort to spend more time outside and he’s lost 10 pounds since he committed to this just two months ago. Let me be clear about this, I am absolutely thrilled for him and inspired by him, as always.

But I also grew more concerned for my dad when I read some of the material the nutritionist gave him. In a binder of food options, there were the usually “swap this with that.” Much of it is laden with chemicals and preservatives and who knows what else.  I spent 15 minutes in the store picking out bread this week, looking for one that didn’t have more than 18 ingredients.

While it’s great to recognize the fat content and caloric value of the foods we eat, it’s also important to look at what makes up the food we eat. And there’s plenty of discussion, research, anecdotes, and evidence to suggest why “clean eating” is critical for health

Going back to D’Angelo’s point, education is a critical component. But it’s much more then knowing to take the stairs or eat a smaller piece of chicken.  At the very least, the Bloomberg move continues the discussion, which D’Angelo points out in his piece from last year, is worthwhile.

I’m grateful for all the discussion you’ve stirred up. In fact, I hope we will one day ruefully laugh at all of this in the same way we now laugh at young Sally Draper walking around with a dry cleaning bag over her head on Mad Men. For now, though, I just don’t think that controlling what Americans eat is the answer. Education is key — and I’m not just talking about making informed food choices. I’m talking about raising a nation of citizens who are critical consumers of media.


I believe through education and peer influence in those most pivotal of years, experience being the best teacher of all, we can rest assured that the years of health, strength and vigor from making the healthiest of choices will steer our nation in a new positive direction. Simply forcing folks to purchase a smaller serving won’t solve anything. While it may be a deterrent for those who are cost-sensitive, is it truly dealing with the issue of the ignorance that many adults and children have toward the effects of their choices on their wellness and happiness?

That still doesn’t answer the question at hand, of course, but it does hit at the heart of the issue that maybe Bloomberg is missing. It’s great he wants to help with obesity, but does he want, or do his policies encourage ways, of actually being healthy?

What do you think?

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