March 16, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

(New York, NY) Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy sponsored a roundtable meeting on childhood obesity today in Manhattan. Experts in childhood obesity from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NYU, St. Lukeís-Roosevelt Hospitalís Van Itallie Center, Montefiore Medical Center, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Cornell University and nutritionists from other organizations and private practice came together to define the problem and examine solutions. Topics covered included childhood obesity and other diseases including diabetes, obesity and emergency food programs, obesity and the media, obesity programs in schools, and the pediatricianís perspective.

Ortiz told the participants, "We have an extraordinary group of experts here today. I think we will all come away from this meeting better informed. My goal is to use your knowledge and experience to help me and other State leaders develop a response to this problem. A problem that has been described as an epidemic."

According to USDA, over the last 20 years the number of overweight children has increased by 50% and the number of extremely obese children has doubled. Not only is the percentage of obese children growing from about 6.5% in the late 1970s and early 1980s to about 22% in 1991, but the amount by which the children are overweight is skyrocketing from about 40% in the 1980s to 80% overweight in the 1990s. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that rates of obesity and related diabetes are increasing dramatically in African-American and Hispanic populations with 27% of blacks and 21% of Hispanics of all ages obese compared to 17% of whites.

The roundtable participants provided evidence of the increasing problem of obesity in the United States, especially among low-income and minority populations, and also described the risk factors such as decreased activity, increased television watching, changing eating habits, genetics and other causes of obesity. Studies have shown that by ninth grade about 70% of females and 50% of males do not participate in vigorous physical activity. The average child from 6 to 11 years of age watches 25 hours of TV a week and sees 10,000 food ads a year. Not only are young TV viewers not active but they are more likely to eat high calorie foods.

Ortiz seeks to better define the problem but ultimately is looking for public health solutions. "Recognizing the causes of child obesity may be the easy part. The hard part is implementing the solutions. Weight loss programs are not that successful, we need to find programs that work and are affordable. How can we help families change their patterns with all the demands and stress our familiesí face? How do we respect cultural traditions if they involve unhealthy eating patterns? These are especially problems in areas such as my Assembly district, mostly Hispanic, where parents work long hours at low paying jobs, where there are few recreational opportunities and where food choices are not the best."

To help address childhood obesity in New York Assemblyman Ortiz is seeking State funds for demonstration projects to develop model programs. "I have asked for $1 million in the State budget for childhood obesity demonstration programs. We spend billions of dollars on hospital and medical care, and a million dollars toward obesity prevention seems modest and may actually reduce spending in the long run. I hope this meeting and advocacy by the nutrition and health care community for obesity programs will be the start of a serious effort to help New York children lead healthier lives and become healthy and productive adults."

New York State Assembly
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