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Pharaoh and the carbonated culprit

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 6/7/2012, 4:25 p.m.
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pinpointed the perpetrator that is undermining the possibilities and eclipsing the hopes of New Yorkers: soda. The mayor is pooling all resources and waging an all-out assault on the carbonated culprit.

I imagine many New Yorkers are swelling with pride at the thought that the leader of the city is truly committed to the health and well-being of all of its citizens. It takes tremendous courage and audacity to take on giants like the New York City Beverage Association. This is a true sign of heroism and bravery. It is apparent that the mayor is a true champion of causes for lost souls.

As you read this, you might get the sense that my words are saturated in sarcasm. You are absolutely and positively right.

Let me be clear: I understand what the mayor is attempting to do. If the mayor's proposed plan passes, New York City would be the first city in the nation to impose a ban on beverages sold that are more than 16 ounces. The ban would affect restaurants, food carts, fast-food franchises, delis, movie theaters, arenas and stadiums. If passed, the proposed ban would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes or alcoholic beverages.

The mayor believes this measure will help combat obesity and diabetes in New York City. To be sure, there is a definite health crisis in the city with regard to obesity and diabetes. The statistics show that in New York City, more than 58 percent of adults are overweight or obese, as are nearly 40 percent of public school students in grades K-8.

Just as alarming is the fact that one in eight New Yorkers has diabetes, which is linked to obesity. As an African-American, I am aware of the havoc that diabetes is wreaking on the African-American community. The American Diabetes Association indicates that compared to the general population of the United States, African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. Some statistics:

  • 3.7 million (14.7 percent) of all African-Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes
  • African-Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites
  • 25 percent of African-Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes
  • One in four African-American women over 55 years of age has diabetes

The numbers are distressing; it is critically important that we seek to educate our communities about the impact of diabetes and how the dreaded disease can be avoided or even managed. But my earlier sarcasm does not come from a place of a lack of concern about the crisis of obesity or diabetes that puts so many in our city at great risk.

My sarcasm is in reaction to comments made by Bloomberg in an interview as he spoke about the proposed ban. "New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something," he said. "I think that's what the public wants the mayor to do."

Bloomberg is absolutely right. New Yorkers do want the mayor to do something, but I would love to see the mayor do something about issues that take true boldness and bravery. I do not want to delegitimize issues around obesity or diabetes, but there are other issues in this city that many New Yorkers want to see the mayor address with just as much vigilance.

What if the mayor worked as diligently to create bold and innovative policy to eradicate poverty in the city? What if the mayor labored as courageously to eliminate the gross educational inequality that exists in the public schools, rather than championing the privatization of public education? What if the mayor operated just as passionately to eliminate the dehumanizing policy of stop-and-frisk as he does eliminating large sugary beverages in the city?

What if the mayor actually believed that all New Yorkers deserved to earn a livable wage? I know that my lamenting may not impact our current mayor, but November of 2013 is not that far away!