NY deals a new blow to diabetes — and Big Food is fighting back

I almost always have the local news on when I get dressed in the morning. Usually, it’s just background noise. But every once in a while, something really grabs my attention. And recently, I heard the newscasters say something that nearly knocked me off my feet.

Councilwoman Inez Barron (a Democrat from Brooklyn) has plans to introduce some new legislation. It would require food service establishments to display posters advertising the lethal risks of excessive sugar and carbohydrate consumption for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

And you can probably guess what I have to say to that… HALLELUJAH!

Needless to say, I couldn’t be more ecstatic. This would mean that restaurants in my home town may eventually be required to warn their customers about the dangers their menu items pose to diabetic patrons. In other words, it’s as close as we’ll ever get to the “SUGAR KILLS” warning label I’ve always said should appear on these foods. (At least, for now.)

Diabetes is a major concern here in New York. Even with higher rates of walking and public transportation use. And despite the fact that the obesity rates are some of the lowest in the country.

In fact, more than one in five New Yorkers is pre-diabetic. That’s close to 2 million people.  And the health department estimates that more than 700,000 already have diabetes. So when Coucilwoman Barron says that “we have an obligation to inform people,” I can’t imagine anyone having the nerve to disagree with her.

And yet, the National Restaurant Association and other “Big Food” cronies have been fighting this kind of legislation in the courts for years.

First, former-mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on jumbo sugary drinks was beaten back by the soda manufacturers. Then, they took aim at the New York Board of Health’s recent ruling, which required chain restaurants to use a salt shaker symbol to demarcate menu items containing more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

The NY Board of Health had proposed a $200 penalty for violations. But no one will be paying up, because the mandate has been put on hold until the appellate court can hand down a ruling on it.

Now, you know how I feel about the crusade against salt. It’s misdirected and overblown — and downright dangerous. And the powers-that-be have placed absurdly low restrictions on sodium intake. But it’s the principle of the thing that really gets me here.

Customers should know what they’re ordering — and restaurants should be obligated to be transparent. It’s as simple as that.

Barron’s bill would apply to all restaurants — not just chains. (Even better!)  But the restaurant industry is already gearing up for war. Get a load of this little gem, from National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez:

“New York City has changed nanny state from a noun to a verb. This is ‘nanny stating’ at its very worst. The City has taken it upon itself to endlessly target the restaurant and food service industry with mandates that offer no solution to underlying health problems. This is just another attempt to showcase misleading information that attempts to scare people about products that are perfectly safe in moderation and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle. A poster on a wall is no way to improve public health.”

These are the same preposterous arguments lobbyists made against efforts to legislate tobacco and alcohol. Have we learned nothing from the profound improvements in the public health that have resulted from those Surgeon General warnings?

And if we really want to be fair, let the record show that sugar contributes to way more deaths than either alcohol or tobacco these days.

Ignorance is bliss — but it’s also deadly. Maybe people don’t want to know about the foods they really ought to be giving up. But the government is beyond foolish to sit idly by while millions more Americans get sick.

And frankly, we’re all foolish for not demanding more from our politicians. Because what this country really needs is more voices like Councilwoman Barron’s.