Christopher Conte writes in _Governing_ about Chicago health commissioner Dr. Terry Mason and his new “war on obesity”:http://188.8.131.52/archive/2006/jun/obesity.txt, in the context of both national and local efforts.
[My opinion coming soon]
bq. With this mix of promising starts, disappointing gaps and unknowns, how can Terry Mason, the city’s new health commissioner, best contribute to the effort to reduce obesity? He can, of course, add a strong voice to the chorus urging people to improve their eating and exercise habits. But public health advocates say government is uniquely able to contribute in another way: It can change the environment in which people make unconscious, daily decisions about such behaviors. And that, experts say, may be crucial. As the long, sad story of failed diets and abandoned resolutions to get more exercise demonstrate, relying on individuals to change by willpower alone doesn’t have a good track record…
bq. Some Chicagoans would like to see Mason join the effort to make the city more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly… That attitude, [Benet] Haller [of DPD] says, repeatedly thwarts the department’s efforts to make Chicago a more pedestrian-friendly city. Drivers oppose efforts to increase housing density for fear it will lead to parking shortages, for instance, and businesses insist on surrounding their buildings with parking lots rather than locating on the sidewalk where they would be more welcoming to people on foot. The issue is politically radioactive, says Haller, who adds that he would welcome the health commissioner’s support.
bq. Perhaps even more eager for an alliance with Mason is the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. It is working with the city to close a few miles of city streets one day this summer for bicyclists and pedestrians, a first step toward a goal of closing 68 miles of city streets on Sundays. The group’s ultimate goal is to make it much easier for people to bicycle city streets every day. To do that, it would deliberately slow down automobile traffic by making changes such as reducing the size of lanes and intersections–another politically explosive idea. “We need to broaden our base of support, and public health is a big piece of that,” says Rob Sadowsky, the federation’s executive director.