Columbia Paper editorial: Food content labels

Fight obesity with knowledge

 

WHAT ARE YOU EATING? With all the health and food scares going around these days, maybe none of us really wants to know. But that’s not what the data say. As it turns out, when we know more—and more accurate—information, we make better choices. Sometimes.

   That fact came up in a new initiative by Governor David Paterson this week to have restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and other ready-to-eat food suppliers owned by large chains reveal to consumers how many calories are in the food they sell. New York City already has a law like this on the books.

   At least one local lawmaker has derided the governor for taking his attention off the more pressing problems facing the state. But that criticism misses the point. The nation has a big fat problem, and a labeling requirement that made everybody more aware of the calories in each serving of fast food might make a small but important difference in our wallets.

   That’s right. Obesity is a financial issue, but not because we spend more on fast food per capita than the rest of the world, although we do. The hidden cost of obesity lies in the impact it has on what we pay now and what we will pay in the future for healthcare.

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Why vote Tuesday?

WHY IS IT that voters say they care about what government does with their money but so many are no-shows when they have a chance to influence where their money goes? Lots of smart people have tried to explain this phenomenon, but we have yet to hear a plausible reason for the most glaring example of this disconnect: school budget elections.

   More than a decade ago state lawmakers mandated that all public school districts outside of major cities hold their annual budget vote and the election of school board members on the same day statewide. This year that date is this Tuesday, May 19, and all six public school districts in the county are asking voters for approval of relatively modest spending proposals, with tax levies—the amounts to be raised by property taxes—rising between one-and-a-half and four percent (except in New Lebanon, where the levy would not rise at all). See our chart on Page 7.

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What’s with teachers?

WHEN SHOULD SELF INTEREST yield to civic duty? Let’s rule out sudden acts of civilian heroism and put aside those who risk their lives on a daily basis in the military, where a commitment to public duty above all else is part of the job description. Consider instead ordinary working people asked to decide between selflessness and selfishness when their jobs are at stake. How clear is that line?

   That question has come up a lot recently in the public sector as well as private industry, as teachers have faced requests by school boards desperately seeking to keep a lid on property taxes, and the state has struggled to cope with a deficit unlike any in modern memory.

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What to do before the flu

I VISITED BUSY MEDICAL BUILDING in Columbia County this week just as the outbreak of swine flu began to dominate the news. On a stand in the lobby outside the main door stood a dispenser of hand sanitizer. You rub some of it on your hands to eliminate germs, including, we assume, the virus that causes the influenza A (H1N1) that is killing people in Mexico and now the U.S. I usually pass by these dispensers; I’m not a medical professional and I’m reasonably healthy. But with all the warnings about the spread of this potentially lethal bug, I stopped and put out my hands for a squirt of the stuff.

   Oops. So much for preparedness. The dispenser was empty.

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Fix the courthouse now

FOR ALL THE GRIM DETAILS that emerged last week at the murder trial of Warren Powell, one of the most disturbing images to emerge from the proceedings occurred just outside the courtroom. It involved a disabled reporter from a Capital Region daily newspaper who had to crawl up the courthouse stairway to reach the courtroom.

     Years ago, Columbia County signed a consent order with the U.S. Justice Department that requires the county to make its courtrooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act was adopted during the term of the first President Bush, and almost two decades later the county still fails to obey a law in the building used to uphold all laws. This is a disgrace.

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