It’s not unheard of for a politician to promote healthier lifestyles for their constituents, but perhaps no city leader does this with quite as much passion and urgency as Eric Adams, the Borough President of Brooklyn, NY. That’s for a good reason: Adams experienced first-hand what happens when you neglect your health.
“In 2016, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I’ve had all the symptoms associated with advanced diabetes,” says Adams. Upon diagnosis, he had severe vision problems and nerve damage in his hands and feet—common complications of untreated type 2 diabetes.
The thought of losing his eyesight or being attached to different medications for the rest of his life was a wake-up call, and he decided to do something about it: “After changing my diet to a whole-food, plant-based diet, it was a complete reversal of those conditions,” says Adams.
Adams hopes to energize the community about healthy eating, empower them to make changes to their own diet and habits, and evaluate the structures in place that encourage or discourage healthy choices.
Take food deserts, for example. A neighborhood with more bodegas than supermarkets is one way to measure a community’s access to healthy foods. (Bodegas are small convenience stores that mostly carry packaged snacks, boxed and frozen foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages—but rarely fresh fruit or vegetables.)
One Brooklyn neighborhood—Bedford Stuyvesant, or “Bed Stuy”—has one supermarket for every 57 bodegas, the worst ratio in the entire city. Rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in Bed Stuy are all above the city-wide average.
These health conditions are not unique to Brooklyn, but Adams has initiated a number of steps to make health a focus in Brooklyn, which could potentially make the borough a role model for other cities.
First of all, Adams focuses on educating kids about food. “We are really putting a lot of capital into urban farming and showing people how we can use our rooftops and the empty lots to grow food, and to see that a vegetable is not just ketchup,” says Adams. (It sounds crazy, but school lunches have historically counted ketchup as a vegetable.)
Another strategy is assessing the medical institutions in the borough. “We’re starting a pilot project where people are going to be able to use a whole-food, plant-based diet to deal with their chronic disease,” says Adams. “We can show that those diseases can be reversed, and get a better outcome.”
Adams also hosts various events at the Brooklyn Borough Hall to educate citizens on different health topics. Past events have included yoga classes, cooking demonstrations, and nutrition lessons, such as the importance of cooking with less salt.
“We’re in a good place by being in Brooklyn to really advocate and raise the conversation on healthy eating, particularly the whole-food, plant-based eating,” says Adams. “We’re going to do all that we can to make sure that it happens.”