Once upon a time, a few politicians woke up and realized that the most important problems New Yorkers are facing today are on their dinner tables. First Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided he would ban trans fats and require calorie counts on restaurant menus. Then Gov. David Paterson proposed a highly unpopular soda tax. Now, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden has returned to the party with a campaign to reduce the use of salt in packaged foods and restaurant meals. The New York Times reports that Frieden, never lacking in ambition, has drawn up a ten-year plan for this mission.
Frieden has good reason to feel emboldened. This is the same man, after all, that successfully pressured the government to criminalize the use of trans fat (an ingredient, the Times correctly notes, that used to be promoted by health officials). Now Frieden is convinced that he can pressure food makers to reduce salt in cheese, bread, condiments, and soups. And if he fails? Then “we’ll have to consider other options, like legislation.”
If he does succeed, Frieden will undoubtedly write the following in his résumé: “Helped achieve an unprecedented victory over common sense without any help from science.” After all, unlike tobacco, Frieden’s other priority, salt is an essential ingredient: By helping absorb major nutrients, salt is required by the body to function properly. Humans have safely enjoyed using salt for over 4,000 years. So it’s no wonder that some health experts, like the editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, are alarmed by Frieden’s revolution.
Not surprisingly, New Yorkers don’t seem too pleased either. CBS News reported on some of their reactions. "Nanny state. We don’t need any more nanny state people can take care of themselves. We don’t need the government to take care of us," said Patrick Keenan of Hell’s Kitchen.
We agree. And with AIDS and cancer rates in New York City still scandalously high, this probably isn’t the wisest use of time, energy or other resources by the Big Apple’s health chief.