Stairway to Health

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has long been known for his often controversial efforts to improve the health of New Yorkers — including his successful campaigns to outlaw smoking in restaurants and parks, ban trans fats in restaurants, and require the posting of calorie counts at chain restaurants, as well as his more recent unsuccessful push to limit the serving size of sugary beverages sold by certain vendors. Perhaps to make up for this last defeat — or maybe just because Bloomberg will be Bloomberg — the mayor seems not to be slowing down in his final months in office, announcing yet another initiative aimed at reducing the rate of obesity in New York City.

At a news conference last Wednesday, according to an article in The New York Times, Bloomberg announced that he had issued an executive order requiring city agencies to promote taking the stairs and to make stairways more inviting in new construction and renovations. This announcement took place at the kickoff of a new nonprofit group, the Center for Active Design, that will promote strategies to encourage physical activity and access to healthy food in daily life. According to the article, Bloomberg has also proposed bills that would require all new buildings to prominently feature stairways in their design and to put up signs encouraging people to take the stairs.

As anyone who has worked or lived in certain office or apartment buildings knows, stairs can indeed be a good source of exercise. But surely one reason for the popularity of elevators — aside from their obvious necessity in high-rise buildings — is that while many people want a workout at some point in the day, they may not want it upon their arrival at work in the morning or at the end of a long day when they arrive home. But as we noted in a Diabetes Flashpoints post last year, physical activity in the workplace has been plummeting for decades, and leisure-time exercise has not made up for the difference. Elevators also tend to save people time, and as the Times article notes, they are often more inviting than stairs because fire regulations usually require keeping stairwell doors shut. Bloomberg has proposed allowing an exception to this rule, permitting the installation of devices that release propped-open doors when a fire alarm goes off.

When given a choice, do you usually take the stairs or the elevator? Is there an upper limit to how many flights of stairs you’ll take on? Is it a good idea to require stairways to be visible and inviting in new buildings, or should cities stay out of such design decisions? How would you feel if your employer started encouraging you to take the stairs, as New York City agencies must now do? Leave a comment below!

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