‘What Can We Get Away With?’

A New York Times account, based on an open-records request, sheds light on how Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s famously nannyish health department makes up its mind how far to go in food-scare advertising. In particular, a proposed YouTube campaign to scare consumers away from sweetened sodas resulted in

a protracted dispute in the department over the scientific validity of directly linking sugar consumption to weight gain — one in which the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, overruled three subordinates, including his chief nutritionist.

Some highlights:

  • “The scientists, she said [nutritionist Cathy Nonas], ‘will make mincemeat of us.’”
  • “’Basic premise doesn’t work,’ Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics and clinical medicine at Columbia”
  • “’The science [i.e., efforts to be more accurate and precise in conveying the science] absolutely weakens our potential for mass distribution,’ [campaign manager Sabira] Taher wrote.”
  • “’I think this is broad enough to get away with,’ [Nonas] wrote [of the final video].”

Isn’t it comforting to think that the city administration of New York – and its federal counterpart, staffed by very similar sorts of activist officials – are also in charge of regulating private advertising of food and many other products to make sure such ads are fair and not misleading?