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NYC health chief will be new CDC director

NEW YORK — For seven years, Dr. Thomas Frieden has been the nagging conscience of the nation's biggest city, the man who made sure New Yorkers couldn't smoke in bars or eat french fries cooked in artery-clogging trans fats.

Now, the city's health commissioner will be taking his crusade against unhealthy living national as the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Barack Obama announced Friday that he has picked Frieden, 48, to lead the public health agency.

New York's health commissioner is not usually a household name, but many New Yorkers quickly got to know Frieden after his appointment in 2002, when he began a series of not-so-gentle campaigns to get the city to live healthier.

In 2003 he pushed through a ban on smoking in almost all workplaces, a rule that transformed nightlife in the city.

Frieden followed that up with a pair of new rules aimed at obesity. One banned restaurants from cooking with artificial trans fats, substitutes for natural fats such as lard. Even McDonald's had to change the way it cooked french fries.

The city also began requiring thousands of chain restaurants to post the calorie content of their foods on the menu.

Critics complained that he was fostering a nanny state and infringing on privacy rights.

Frieden is unapologetic. Illnesses such as heart disease, he said, are now leading killers, cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and should be treated with the same urgency as an outbreak of a contagious illness like tuberculosis.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a group funded by restaurants and food companies, issued a statement decrying his selection, saying he was "an overzealous activist who doesn't give any consideration to the importance of personal responsibility or privacy."

Frieden will begin at the CDC in June. His appointment does not require Senate confirmation. He will replace acting CDC Director Richard Besser

Frieden said he was "sorry to be leaving one of the greatest jobs in the world," but "deeply honored and privileged to be selected for this position."


Thomas Frieden

Age: 48: born Dec. 7, 1960

Education: Oberlin College (B.A.), Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (M.D.).

Experience: New York City Health Commissioner since 2002; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1990 to 2002. Has served as an adviser to the World Bank and has been an assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health.

NYC health chief will be new CDC director 05/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:39pm]
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