Sunday, December 18, 2005

In an appalling extension of the nanny state, New York is slated to become the first city to monitor diabetics’ blood-sugar levels. It plans to register them like HIV or tuberculosis sufferers and nag them when their levels aren’t healthy enough. Drop the cupcake; here come the sugar police.

Sensible people will laugh at this, but New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, an appointee of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is dead serious about the Big Apple’s sweet tooth. He’s the man behind New York’s onerous smoking ban; he doesn’t shy from alleging “epidemics.” Since Mr. Frieden recently told the New York Sun that diabetes and obesity will be the signature issues of his second term, this begs a question: Will diabetes be the next big thing for public-health bureaucracies?

This much is for certain: For years, the public-health establishment has been comfortable making an “epidemic” out of conditions like diabetes and obesity, which — though prevalent and debilitating — are not communicable and can be combated with a few modifications to personal habits.

The American Diabetes Association is not standing athwart the gates, at least not yet. Last week it called Mr. Frieden’s ideas valuable, which comes as no surprise given the ADA’s occasional use of the “E” word in policy papers and official statements (and its obesity scaremongering as well.) It hedged, however, insisting that permission from sufferers would be necessary before entering people into a city diabetes database.

If the ADA holds fast on the permission issue, it will clash with Mr. Frieden and his cohorts: They are all too eager to coerce. Last week the health commissioner dismissed concerns about doctor-patient privilege. “We will ensure that the utmost care will be taken to keep people’s information protected,” he said.

We won’t hold our breath, however. This is a classic case of permanent government inventing a new mandate in which the permanent interest groups all too often acquiesce. Having all but conquered germ-born diseases like tuberculosis and cholera, a city bureaucracy now needs another reason to exist. It will need to raid people’s refrigerators and living rooms, but that is no matter, since the measure comes as a regulatory decision. At least for now, real voters have no say.

No one denies diabetes’ ill effects on Americans: There are nearly 21 million sufferers nationwide on whom one of every 10 health-care dollars is thought to be spent. But who put city bureaucrats in charge of peoples’ eating and exercise habits? The sugar police don’t want to answer that question. In reality they are trying to install themselves as regulators of citizens’ personal lives. The rest of us should oppose them.

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