Adams expands ‘lifestyle medicine,’ dodges questions on own diet

Mayor Adams cooks a vegan chili at Kings County Hospital on Feb. 7, 2022
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday the expansion of “lifestyle medicine” services to six locations in the city’s public hospital network, including two in Brooklyn.

The new lifestyle medicine “clinics” will help people with chronic illnesses, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, make healthy changes to their lifestyle, including plant-based diets, exercise, increasing sleep, and reducing stress, the mayor said Monday.

Hizzoner further maintained that these lifestyle changes can prevent people from suffering chronic illness, can improve health outcomes for those suffering from them, and in some cases, such as his own, even reverse a diagnosis.

“This is the most comprehensive expansion of lifestyle medicine in the nation,” the mayor said at a Feb. 7 press conference at Kings County Hospital in Flatbush, one of the sites the program is expanding to. “New York is going to change the conversation about using food not to feed healthcare crises, but to stop the crises and in some cases, like my case, to reverse some of the chronic diseases that historically we said was not possible.”

Mayor Adams announces a newly expanded “lifestyle medicine” program at public hospitals on Feb. 7, 2022.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The first lifestyle medicine clinic was started at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan in 2019, and was promoted at the time by then-Brooklyn Borough President Adams. The program will also expand to Woodhull Hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jacobi and Lincoln Hospitals in the Bronx, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, and Gotham Health Vanderbilt in Staten Island.

More than 40 percent of adults in New York State suffer from a chronic disease, according to the state Health Department, and those with such illnesses account for 23 percent of hospitalizations and 60 percent of deaths in the state. Some like Alzheimers, asthma, and cancer are incurable and mostly not based on lifestyle choices, but others like hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and smoking-related illnesses are largely caused by unhealthy habit-forming activities.

Those diseases “hijack” the lives of its victims and their families, Adams said.

“A chronic disease does not only impact the individual who has the chronic disease — it impacts the entire family,” the mayor said. “A chronic disease hijacks your life and it hijacks the life of your entire family. And that is why this is a significant moment on what we are doing.”

The issue is personal for Adams: for years he has claimed that adopting a plant-based diet cured him of type 2 diabetes and complications including blindness. “If I would have followed the path I was given, I would not be standing here,” he said. “I was going blind.”

Adams has made his healthy diet a central part of his political persona, even writing a plant-based cookbook, “Healthy at Last: A Plant-Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses,” in which he shared 50 recipes he says have helped him become the healthy man he is today, and promoted his mission to make healthy food as freely available as junk in low-income communities and communities of color.

Adams said that he would soon be undertaking a program to feed himself a healthy, balanced, plant-based diet on a budget of $10 per day, and on Monday led a cooking demonstration where he made his vegan chili recipe that he says costs $9 to feed a family of four to dissuade the myth that his diet is too expensive.

A bowl of Mayor Adams’ homemade vegan chili.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Nonetheless, the mayor largely evaded questions Monday on a report from Politico that had wait staff and dinner compadres saying he regularly eats fish. While Adams has historically made a point to refer to himself as “plant-based” rather than vegan, he has typically said the distinction is that he doesn’t eat Oreos or drink Coca-Cola, and he has in the past used vegan and plant-based interchangeably.

The mayor did not deny that he eats fish, but dismissed FishGate by saying his personal habits are important only to the “food police” and not everyday New Yorkers. Instead, he hammered home his point that eating more plant-based meals would lead to a healthier life.

“Does Eric eat fish? Does he eat a hamburger? Does he do this, does he do that,” he said, standing in front of a coterie of fruits and vegetables. “Here’s my message: the more plant-based meals you have, the healthier you are going to be.”

“Don’t worry about what’s on Mayor Adams’ plate,” he continued. “Put these items on your plate.”