New CDC chief to target smoking; led charge in NYC

June 6, 2009
The Associated Press

ATLANTA - Dr. Thomas Frieden has swung a big stick as New York City's top health official, pushing through bans on smoking and artery-clogging trans fats.

The New York Post called him "Dr. Buttinsky." Others attacked him as a wrong-headed crusader. But smoking plummeted and the city made admired inroads against cancer and other chronic diseases.

On Sunday, he heads to Atlanta. And on Monday he takes over the federal government's top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - where he's going to have to try a different approach. Some believe Frieden was chosen primarily for his work with New York doctors to expand the use of electronic medical records and systematically collect blood sugar tests from the city's patients in an effort to control the city's rampant diabetes.

Those concepts fit with efforts to change the U.S. health system, not only to expand insurance coverage, but also to prevent disease, experts said.

"I would argue that one of the reasons he was chosen was that he was able to make the case of how public health can play a vital role in a reformed health care system," said Jeff Levi, who heads Trust for America's Health, a research group.

"It's that kind of vision that probably was most attractive to the administration."

Of course, it didn't hurt that Frieden performed well during the recent swine flu outbreak, Levi said. New York was the scene of the first big U.S. outbreak.

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