By: Hazel Dukes, President, NAACP New York State Conference
There's an old proverb that goes something like this: "Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you'll feed him for a lifetime."
That's a pearl of wisdom that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might consider in light of the proposed regulation he pushed forward, in partnership with the New York City Department of Health, which will restrict the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in packages or cups larger than 16 ounces.
I believe the Mayor's heart is in the right place, but this decision is neither prudent nor helpful in the overall fight against obesity. And, given the many significant issues faced by our community, the time and resources of this great City can be put to much better use than by offering up a misdirected solution to the growing problem of obesity.
Believe me, I understand the health crisis that plagues our nation. In fact, the obesity rates for African Americans who are 20 years of age and older is more than 38% for men — about 10% above the national average -- while more than 54% of the women in our community are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is indeed tragic.
The real reason for obesity is obvious: people consume more calories than they burn. An edict limiting the sizes of sugared soft drinks does not address this central fact.
At the NAACP, we've decided to tackle the obesity crisis in a holistic way through Project HELP (Healthy Eating, Lifestyles, and Physical Activity), which is designed to improve the overall quality of life for African Americans through health education. Project HELP educates participants on the risk factors that lead to chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. It also develops community health ambassadors to build healthier environments for families.
I believe that it's going to take all of us — business, government, society, non profits, individuals — working together to solve our obesity challenge. And we need more holistic programs like Project HELP, not a narrowly focused, shortsighted ban that won't work.
People shouldn't be overpowered with regulations and restrictions that the government deems best for them. Instead, let's empower people with the education and opportunities they can use to take control of their own health and well-being.
I hope Mayor Bloomberg will join the NAACP to encourage our citizens to get active, get knowledgeable, and get healthy.