‘Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine‘- Chris Hadfield.
From the beginning of twentieth century chronic disease was considered a leader and caused 70 percent of the deaths, instead of infectious disease. Public health was static towards infectious disease, with only 2 percent funding allocated to prevention of diseases. The establishment of Chronic Disease Bureau by Commissioner of Health, Tom Freiden shifted the focus to look for trends in New York City. There was growing scientific evidence against artificial trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PVHO). The evidence showed that an individual consumed 1/3rd of total calorie from such unhealthy ingredients. The studies also showed that replacing PVHO would reduce coronary disease by estimated 6 percent and events by 23 percent.
With this conviction that action was necessary, department of Health and Mental Hygiene instituted a voluntary restriction of PVHO in 2005. However, survey after a year showed ‘zero’ compliance. NYC Board of Health then published a notice of intent to create formal restrictions. Lobbyists came out strongly, but there was a favorable support ratio of 33:1. The ban wasn’t complete, because trans-fats occur naturally in meat and diary. The restrictions added a health code by resolution, prohibiting greater than use 0.5g in preparations.
Bloomberg’s strong leadership, to energize others for change speaks volumes on how an aggressive and effective leadership can promote reforms in large and complex organizations. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg an ardent advocate of public health. He and his administration from 2002-2011 took three hallmark public health reforms initiatives. One of the initiatives was, ‘trans-fats restrictions’. The mayor said his mayoralty,’should be judged based on metrics of New Yorkers increase in life expectancy’. As a data driven person, the agencies with data and research only approach him. Instead of leading the change, he selected agency heads who shared his philosophy and gave them leeway to lead the reform efforts. The discretion and trust imbued on his commissioners was a key element in moving and reshaping the efforts forwards and to bring interdisciplinary coordination between various government departments.
The Food and Drug Administration recognized the efforts and results of Mayor Mike Bloomberg that outlawed trans-fats from NYC restaurants since 2006. Therefore, FDA is expanding the restrictions to snuff out the artery-clogging toxic fats from our food supply chain.
While many food products now boast “trans-fat free” on labels, but also pay attention to ingredients where it may say-partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. However, some supermarket foods still contain trans-fats such as microwave popcorn, frosting, pie crusts and margarine. So pay careful attention to the labels for your healthy reasons.
Writing on ‘Leadership Crusade against Trans-fats’, is in continuation of my reflection to contribute to Vibrant Healthy Communities. Do you screen nutritional labels for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil !