Young New Yorkers Divided on Mayor Bloomberg’s Health Initiatives

Calorie counting in restaurants. A ban on trans-fats. Smoking limits.

These are all initiatives that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has passed in an effort to improve the health of New York City residents. These policies have also affected the lives of many young New Yorkers. Two in particular are the Mayor’s ban on public smoking and his proposed “soda ban.”

Many young residents find themselves divided on these recent health initiatives and feel that education and strong parental influences are more important than trying to dictate people’s behaviors.

About a year ago, the mayor banned smoking in beaches, parks and public plazas to reduce the air pollution and prevent litter. Another of the mayor’s policies would ban the sales of pre-sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces in the city’s delis, fast –food franchises and sports arenas.

“He’s focusing on superficial things to distract people from the real issues,” said Richmond Hill resident Jason Fonseca.

Fonseca, a New York City math teacher at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, has worked with young people for a long time and feels that there are much greater problems to be worried about than how much sugar they consume. He feels that the mayor should focus on the bigger problems that young people face, like school closings and teacher lay-offs.

Fonseca says that teens have been smoking for years and that the ban won’t change that. He feels that the government could impose all the health initiatives they want, but if the parents don’t get involved in their kid’s lives, they will not be effective.

“Parents are the number one influence on the kids,” he said.

Florent Julien, a 24-year-old business student who recently moved here from France, believes prohibition is not effective, but that the government should make health education a priority instead.

“It’s cheaper to educate people, as opposed to solving health problems,” he said.

But Julien agrees with the mayor’s parks and beaches smoking ban. A long time smoker himself, he believes young people are not mature enough to decipher the good from the bad.

Bloomberg’s plans aren’t the first city initiative aimed to get New Yorkers to lay off the junk. In 2011, the New York City Health Department held a campaign by launching a 30-second TV spot to talk about health issues to show city residents just how detrimental soda can be for teens. According to the Health Department, a soda a day equals 50 pounds of sugar a year, putting a person at risk for diabetes and obesity.

“Anything from stopping what has proven to hurt people is good with me,” said Wilfredo Gomez, 18, from Washington Heights.

He points out that soda sizes are excessive, and believes that the mayor is taking a step in the right direction.

Dr. Anis Alam, 51, a physician from Midwood, Brooklyn, believes that portion control is key.

“Eating or drinking too much of anything is bad,” he said.

Bloomberg has defended his policies as good for the health of New Yorkers.

“Six years ago, naysayers called the trans-fat ban a misguided attempt at social engineering by a group of physicians who don’t understand the restaurant industry. This week, we saw evidence that the ban is reducing New Yorkers’ fat intake and potentially saving lives,” the mayor said at a public health hearing last month. “Six years from now, hopefully we are celebrating a reversal in the obesity epidemic currently killing 5,800 New Yorkers a year and due to our plan to limit the size of sugary beverages and other anti-obesity initiatives.”

Several organizations, like the New Yorkers For Beverage Choices and New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, oppose the city’s initiatives.

“The Mayor invited prominent obesity experts from across the country to give their opinions on what New Yorkers should eat and drink,” Eliot Hoff, spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, said in a statement. “But there was still no real evidence presented that a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 ounces would have an impact combating obesity.”

If passed, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban could go into effect as early as next spring.

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