Billionaire Bloomberg to fund $5m public health projects in 40 cities worldwide

Exclusive: Melbourne, Accra and Ulaanbaatar among cities to benefit from funding pledged by former New York mayor to tackle issues from air pollution to obesity

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire bte noire of both the sugar industry and the tobacco industry, famously fought for a ban on the sale of large-sized colas and other sweet drinks when he was mayor of New York and lost. Although that is not how he sees it.

We actually won that battle, he says. I have always thought if we had not been stopped by the court, it would have died as an issue. Nobody would have known about it. But the fact that it kept coming back to the newspapers was a gift in disguise because people started to think, Holy God, maybe full-sugar drinks are bad for me.

So what happened was consumption of full-sugar drinks around the world has gone down dramatically. If we had won the thing, I think it would have been less.

Bloomberg did plenty more for public health while mayor of New York, including imposing one of the first bans on smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003. Since then he has widened his sphere of influence, funding successful campaigns through his philanthropic foundation for sugar taxes in Mexico and Philadelphia and for curbs on smoking all over the world.

Now, appointed last year as the World Health Organisations global ambassador for non-communicable diseases meaning anything that can harm or kill you that is not infectious the eighth richest person in the world, worth an estimated $47.5bn, is taking his philosophy and his cash to 40 cities around the globe.

His offer, taken up by about 40 cities so far and officially launched on Tuesday, is $5m in assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies as well as technical support for cities that choose to focus on one of 10 healthy lifestyle issues, including curbing sugary drink consumption, air pollution, promoting exercise and and bans on smoking. They range from affluent Melbourne in Australia to Cali and Medellin in Colombia, Accra in Ghana, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Khatmandu in Nepal and Kampala in Uganda.

National and state governments collect taxes, but it is city governments that make things happen. 50% of people currently live in cities and that is projected to rise to 70% in the next decade or so. Cities are where the rubber meets the road, Bloomberg told the Guardian. The problems are in the cities and the solutions are in the cities.

Bloomberg is upbeat, indomitable and an independent thinker. He made his money in global financial services and has been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent at various times. He says he believes the war on sugar and tobacco, of which his foundation must be seen as the main global financial backer, is being won.

In parts of the world, clearly yes, and particularly on smoking, he said. In Europe nobody would have thought people wouldnt insist on smoking in an Irish bar or pub or an Italian restaurant, but the smoking campaign has really worked, reducing consumption in all of western Europe, north and south America and even in China.

But there are places where poor people live and they are still smoking and really damaging their lungs and they are going to die young. It is up to us to keep the battle going. Sugar is a little bit less developed but still working.

His attention is on non-communicable diseases more broadly now that includes air pollution and road traffic accidents as well as cigarettes, alcohol and bad food. Cities in poor countries may argue that they have too many other problems to spend time on sugary drinks, but, says Bloomberg, poverty, ill-health and poor education are all interlinked.

It will be harder to get the public behind you because they less understand the damage being done to their own health. But thats the challenge. The cities where its easy have probably already addressed the issue, he said.

Michael
Michael Bloomberg and WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan Photograph: Bloomberg Phlilantropies

Bloomberg would not suggest it is easy to make the sort of changes he has pushed for in all these years.

I dont remember anybody objecting to the smoking ban when we put it in, although a lot of people wanted to take my picture and a lot of people gave me one finger waves, he said. If there was an easy solution to a complex problem, we wouldnt have the problem. If you want to make things better, youre going to be doing things that are tough.

The cities that commit to the Partnership for Healthy Cities can choose between curbing sugary drink consumption, passing laws to make public places smoke-free or banning cigarette advertising, cutting salt in food, using cleaner fuels, encouraging cycling and walking, reducing speeding, increasing seatbelt and helmet use, curbing drink driving or carrying out a survey to collect data on the lifestyle risks the city population runs.

Cape Town in South Africa was one of the earliest cities to commit and will focus on reducing the intake of sugary drinks. Its mayor, Patricia de Lille, says they are facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, caused by obesity. Diabetes is a silent killer, she said. We dont have the luxury to work by trial and error. Unfortunately we have to get it right first time.

London has also said it wants to be involved, although which issue will be the focus has not yet been revealed. It is a city with which Bloomberg says he has a complex relationship his former wife is British and his daughters hold dual nationality. He has an honorary knighthood from the Queen. He also has an honour from the City of London that he intends one day to cash in.

I do have the right to drive sheep across London Bridge and before I die, I want to do it one day at rush hour, just to see what happens, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/16/billionaire-bloomberg-to-fund-5m-public-health-projects-in-40-cities-worldwide

Stroke and dementia risk linked to low-sugar drinks, study finds

Drinking a can of diet soft drink a day associated with almost three times higher risk, say researchers but critics warn against causal connection

Consuming a can a day of low- or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claim.

Their findings have prompted renewed questions about whether drinks flavoured with artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of serious illness, as heavily sugared drinks have already been shown to do.

Drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily was associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared to those who drank artificially sweetened beverages less than once a week, according to the American researchers who carried out a study published in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), calorific intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischaemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimers disease dementia, the co-authors write.

Those consuming at least a can of so-called diet drinks every day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimers disease than those who drank them less than once a week, they found.

Ischaemic strokes occur when blood cannot get to the brain because of a blockage, often one caused by a blood clot forming in either an artery leading to the brain or inside a vein in the brain itself. They comprise the large majority of the 152,0000 strokes a year which occur.

Surprisingly, though, the research also contradicted previous studies by finding that sugared drinks did not raise the risk of either serious outcome. It is based on data for more than 4,300 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term medical research project in the United States.

To our knowledge, our study is the first to report an association between daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drink and increased risk of both all-cause dementia and dementia because of Alzheimers disease, the co-authors added.

However, they admitted that they could not prove a causal link between intake of diet drinks and development of either medical condition because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits.

Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston Universitys school of medicine who was one of the co-authors, said that despite no evidence of a causal link, the apparent connection between sweetened drinks and the two conditions does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies.

This is not the first time that sweetened drinks have been implicated in the development of serious ill-health. The paper quotes the Northern Manhattan study as having found that daily consumption of artificially sweetened soft drink was associated with a higher risk of combined vascular events but not stroke. It also cites the conclusion of the Nurses Health study and Health Professionals follow-up study that greater consumption of sugar and artificially sweetened soft drinks was each independently associated with a higher risk of incident stroke over 28 years of follow-up for women and 22 years of follow-up for men.

Sales of diet versions of soft drinks have boomed in recent years as sales of fully sugared ones have declined sharply.

Defras Family Food Survey, published last month, found that sales of regular soft drinks fell by 34.6% between 2010 and 2014, while low-calorie drinks purchases increased by 35.8%. Now just 38% of all soft drinks consumed are fully sugared, it said.

However, experts and health charities warned against reading too much into the findings reported in Stroke.

This research does not show that artificially sweetened drinks cause dementia. But it does highlight a worrying association that requires further investigation, said Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimers Society.

Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said: This is an interesting paper, but I would strongly caution against the conclusion that artificially sweetened drinks may increase the risk of stroke and Alzheimers. There is little other strong evidence to support a link between artificially sweetened drinks and adverse health outcomes.

The results could have been skewed by people who had already become ill before switching to low- or no-sugar drinks, Sattar added.

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, head of health sciences at Ulster University, said: These data are sound as far as they go. However, it is important to note the associations between recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and dementia were no longer significant after additional adjustment for vascular risk factors and diabetes mellitus as the editor also pointed out. So are the conclusions sound? Perhaps not.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: Despite their claims, the authors of this observational study admit they found no cause and effect and provide no science-based evidence whatsoever to support their theories.

In fact, based on the evidence, Public Health England is actively encouraging food and drink companies to use low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar and help people manage their weight.

However, Tam Fry, a spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, warned consumers not to see low- or no-sugar drinks as healthy. Dont be fooled by the use of the word diet. Diet drinks were dreamed up as a description by an industry wanting to lull you into believing that it was a healthy thirst-quencher. Whether youre thin or fat and thirsty, and not near a good old-fashioned tap, buy yourself bottled water, Fry said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/20/stroke-and-dementia-risk-linked-to-low-sugar-drinks-study-finds