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March 22, 2013

Gov't role in personal health is OK

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is no stranger to controversy or backlash toward his campaign to improve the health of his city’s residents.

While his efforts no doubt are well-intentioned, Bloomberg has earned the reputation of an overbearing scold because of policies that require responsible behavior instead of simply encouraging it. Such was the case with Bloomberg’s proposed ban on selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, food stands, theaters and stadiums.

It’s undeniably true that New York City residents could stand to cut down on sugary drinks; according to the state Department of Health, New York City’s obesity rate rose to 22 percent in 2007.

But most of those who objected to the rule aren’t suggesting that obesity isn’t a problem. The objection is that the responsibility for making good decisions shouldn’t be taken away from consumers.

In fact, some so-called “nanny state” initiatives have proven to be helpful — and popular. When the city’s restaurants were required in 2008 to post calorie counts of menu items, 84 percent of the city’s residents approved, according to a 2010 Quinnipiac poll. Better yet, a study by the British medical journal BMJ indicated those who saw calorie counts ordered 100 fewer calories on average than those who didn’t see them.

The point here is that consumers don’t want public officials forcing their hand — but they like being informed. Unfortunately, sometimes the truth hurts. Such is the case with Bloomberg’s recent campaign to reduce teen pregnancy by posting blunt, provocative advertisements warning of the pitfalls of having unintended children.

The ads, which contrast bold quotations with adorable babies staring pensively, have stark messages such as “I’m twice as likely to drop out of high school because you had me as a teen.” Planned Parenthood of New York City was outraged, calling the ads “stigmatizing, fear-based messages,” and arguing teen pregnancy is not a “disastrous and life-compromising event.”

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