I was pleased to receive a phone call from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and to be selected to participate in a “health survey.” The questions offered a fascinating insight into the agency’s preoccupations — and what sorts of impropriety obsess its leadership nowadays.
It’s reassuring that the Department wants to be able to estimate how many New Yorkers lack health insurance and, separately, lack a regular health-care provider, and asked questions about those things. And I was impressed that the survey designers thought to ask whether, the last time I sought help for a medical problem, it took a long time to get an appointment.
And then came some predictable How Are We Doing? questions: Have I had a flu immunization in the past 12 months? (No, thank you, I’m not convinced that it works… Okay, I didn’t say that, the survey taker seemed young and too earnest for serious critique, so I just said “No.”) At least two doses of hepatitis B vaccine at some time in the past? When did I last have a colonoscopy?
But there was the question about whether I have used oxocodone or hydrocodone (OxyContin or Vicodin) without a prescription, or outside of the prescribed dosage. The Department has just announced a new campaign to stop people from using pain killers too much.
There was the question about whether I’m exposed to cigarette smoke in my household.
There was a question on whether my household has a disaster plan. No, we don’t. We have a couple of flashlights, some water, and a bottle of scotch. Will that do? We’re grown-ups, we don’t have pets or little children to look after. We’ll work something out.
(But I didn’t say that to my earnest interviewer, either. I have a feeling they don’t find whiskey to be humorous, over there at the health department. In fact, they had some very specific questions about alcohol consumption, amount and frequency.)
There were questions about how often I exercise vigorously. How often I exercise moderately. How often I exercise lightly. How long I engage in said exercise when I do do it. Very interested in exercise, our health department.
There was the question as to how many servings of fruit or vegetables I ate yesterday.
And then, onward to mayor Mike Bloomberg’s white whale: sugar-sweetened beverages! Mayor Mike is going to ban serving soda or other sweet beverages in large sizes — and he’s not asking for a new law (which might not pass), just a go-ahead from the city’s eleven-person Board of Health, all appointed by the mayor, chaired by the city’s cheerleader for “healthy lifestyles,” health commissioner Thomas Farley. A restaurant trade association, the Center for Consumer Freedom, responded to news of the mayor’s intention with an amusing ad in today’s NYT, portraying Bloomberg as The Nanny.
The survey questions: How often do I drink soda or bottled iced tea? What about beverages to which I add sugar myself, like tea or coffee?
And, now that we were deep into the zone of health officials’ self-stimulation: how many (a) women and (b) men had I had sex with in the past year? Did I use condoms? And, had I used the Internet to meet a sex partner in the past 12 months?
So much for health. Now we know what haunts the dreams of the self-righteous mayor and his bluenose health commissioner:
Reading this list, you would have to be forgiven for thinking that these men, Bloomberg and Farley, have been living in a monastery since, say, the 14th century. In fact, if they were really clergymen instead of officials, they would leave us alone about how we eat and sweat and screw. At least in between sermons.
But thanks for calling.