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New York City Anti-Obesity Project Focuses On Building Design

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A New York City initiative to combat obesity will promote physical activity through design changes for buildings and public spaces.

One initiative taps the expertise of the city's design and construction, health, transportation, planning and budget departments. It provides architects and urban designers with strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets and public spaces. Academic research is one of the components.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg detailed various steps to promote a concept called "active design'' at an event at The New School on Wednesday.

New York City Anti-Obesity Project Focuses On Building Design

"Active design" means shaping the built environment to encourage physical activity; that can entail making stairways more welcoming or sidewalks more inviting.

Bloomberg signed an executive order requiring city agencies to use "active design" strategies in all new construction and major renovation projects and introduced two pieces of legislation to promote access to stairways in all buildings.

His plans include seeking to change the building code to allow limited use of devices that keep stairwell doors open, except in emergencies.

The mayor also wants to require new buildings and major renovations to include at least one continuous stairway open for non-emergency use. A continuous stairway has flights right above each other, rather than stairs in one area on some floors and elsewhere on others.

New York City Anti-Obesity Project Focuses On Building Design

There could be some exemptions for security.

"New York City has been a leader when it comes to promoting healthier eating and now we're leading when it comes to encouraging physical activity as well," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Physical activity and healthy eating are the two most important factors in reducing obesity and these steps are part of our ongoing commitment to fighting this epidemic." visible stairs promote their use

CBS 2's Marcia Kramer asked the mayor what he does when confronted with the choice of taking the stairs or riding an elevator. It turns out that in this city of skyscrapers he's not exactly a purist.

"It depends. If I'm going into your building and I can't see the stairs, then you take the elevator. If I'm going into a building I'm familiar with, you know, I have five floors in my house. I just take the stairs. If there was a lot of luggage going up to the fifth floor maybe you'd put it on the elevator," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said visible stairs promote their use, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"If you work on the 20th floor, and you're going to go see somebody a floor above or a floor below, what are you going to wait for an elevator?" said Bloomberg.

Other public officials touted the initiative.

"Even small changes to the way we design our city can greatly increase physical activity and in turn, combat obesity," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "We must seize every opportunity possible to end New York City's obesity epidemic."

"Incorporating physical activity into daily routines is the best way to get the many health benefits of exercise," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. "By integrating Active Design strategies into renovations and future buildings, New Yorkers will have new opportunities to be physically active throughout their days."

Bloomberg's charges gave the idea mixed reviews.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Frank Massimo of Deer Park.

"I don't think that's right. People have problems with their legs and their knees and orthopedic programs and should be allowed to take elevators,' added Chris Tompkins of Harlem.

"It's too hot to be climbing a lot of  stairs right now," said Robert McGuire of the Bronx. "I'm totally against it."

"It's a very, very good idea. We all have to be mindful of our health," said Donald Peebles of Brownsville.

"I don't think so. They need more elevators in New York," East New York's Ronald David added.

"Depends on what floor you're working on, but let him take the stairs," said Robert Biloskurski of Huntington.

Bloomberg is well-known for targeting obesity through several public health initiatives.

Earlier this year, he tried to ban super-sized sugary drinks from being sold at restaurants and other venues as a way to fight a growing problem of obesity in the city, but a judge halted the plan in March. The proposal is currently in the courts.

The city health department also recently launched a round of ads warning that sports drinks, sweetened teas and juices contain large amounts of sugar.

Bloomberg has also asked restaurants and packaged food companies to reduce the sodium in their products. The city estimates that about 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium.

Bloomberg is behind a number of other health initiatives in place in New York City, including banning smoking inside and in city parks, requiring calorie counts be posted at chain restaurants and barring the use of trans fats.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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