May 11, 2015

Creating Environments Conducive To Healthy Behaviors - May 2008

As we move into May, this is junior prom season at high schools, and I have a son who is planning to attend the prom. I remember my junior prom, which took place in May, 1965. It was a wonderful evening with a wonderful date, but what I also remember is that Brother Joseph Clark, our principal at my high school, Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, New York, decided that the prom would start at 10 pm and end at 4 am. He said that no one would be allowed to leave the prom before 4 am unless he or she was picked up by parents. His explicit reason for this decision was to keep us in the prom venue until after the bars and nightclubs around town closed.

Today, this same issue has surfaced in a different way. New York City has decided to order all bars closed at 2 am, instead of 4 am. In the Sunday, April 27, New York Post, in the Page 6 Magazine, there were actually two op-ed pieces published on this subject, one opposing the earlier closing hour, and the other favoring it. The proponent, a female freelance writer, made the great comment that nothing much good happened between 2 am and 4 am. In fact, those extra hours probably led to more behaviors that people later regretted, if they could remember them, than during any other 2-hour period during the day.

However, the opponent of the 2 am closing hour made the argument that the earlier closing would cost jobs and income, particularly for under-employed actors and actresses, and that the bars and nightclubs that stayed open that late were integral to the New York City social scene. He also pointed out that the owners of the bars and nightclubs would suffer severe financial hardship in an already difficult economy.

My high school principal, Brother Clark, was very wise to make the decision he did because, in those days, unlike what I have seen in our town, most students drove to and from proms, usually with two couples in a car. Today, more students are sharing stretch limos to avoid having to deal with late night driving. It does not stop them from abusing alcohol, but, at least, it avoids the risk of automobile accidents caused by alcohol-impaired teenage drivers. Also, in those days, the liabilities for serving under-age drinkers were not as strong as they are today, so there seemed to be more flagrant and frequent violations of the rules against serving under-age drinkers than there are today.

At the same time, the judgment about the degree to which government should govern adult behaviors is more complex. I personally favor New York City’s decision because it is a statement about how much we value the health of citizens. I also believe that it will achieve the purpose intended, which is to reduce alcohol abuse and the consequences that flow from it. However, we have to recognize the economic hardship factor in some way.

We also have to recognize that reforming our health care system, or promoting health through changing diets and focusing more on nutritionally healthy foods will be difficult to achieve all at once because too many people make too much money selling the unhealthy stuff we consume today. Those selling unhealthy food will be in denial that they are hurting other people’s health, but the sooner we acknowledge the real issue, which is how they cope with the economic change a healthier environment brings, the better. By creating a healthy environment that enables individual’s access to healthy foods will encourage people to adopt healthy behaviors.