April 26, 2002
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
Legislators Warned Of Nutrition Crisis

Researchers, Doctors, Dietitians, Educators Testify
About Dramatic Rise in Childhood Obesity

(New York, NY) Witnesses testified at an Assembly hearing today about the doubling of childhood obesity in the last 20 years, the increase in children suffering from Type II Diabetes formerly seen only in adults, and women with early signs of osteoporosis because they consumed soda instead of milk during their growing years. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (Manhattan), Chair of the Committee on Health, sponsored a hearing in New York City today to examine how State government can prevent these nutrition-related problems in our children and adults. Experts such as Kelly Brownell, Director of Yale's Center for Eating and Weight Disorders spoke about how our society creates a dangerous environment where young children are targeted by billions of dollars in marketing of unhealthy foods, even in schools.

Over one-half million New Yorkers are diabetic and heart attacks are the leading cause of death among New York women, and more than 2 million adults suffer from, or are at risk for, osteoporosis. Health experts, including the Surgeon General, consider obesity, especially among children and minority populations, to be approaching epidemic proportions. New York State has a higher childhood obesity rate than the national average and rates among Hispanic and African-American children are even higher: 22% of Black, 20% of Latino, and 19% of White sixth grade children are overweight in New York City. A recent study found that one in four obese children have early signs of Type II diabetes. The prevalence of Type II diabetes is also much higher in Hispanic and African-American populations.

According to Ortiz, "These are serious health issues that we cannot ignore, not only because of the suffering of the children but also because of the toll on our health care system, our schools and our future workforce. Obesity and diabetes are very difficult and persistent problems among adults in our society. Therefore, the State needs to direct resources to prevent it in childhood. That is why I sponsored this hearing and why I developed my Childhood Obesity Prevention bill."

Assemblyman Ortiz introduced legislation (A.7939) last year that would create a Childhood Obesity Prevention Grant Program. The funds would pay for media campaigns to encourage better eating habits, and establish school and community-based childhood obesity prevention programs including physical activity. The funds would come from a portion of existing sales tax revenue from some of the very products that result in obesity such as soda, candy, fast food meals and other non-essential foods. A recent study suggests an extra soft drink a day gives a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese and take-out food, consisting of larger portion sizes and higher calorie foods, now account for over 30% of a family's food expenditures.

According to Ortiz, "We need to help families who are under time and financial pressure learn how to better feed their children. We need to provide recreation opportunities for our youth who don't have gym class in underfunded schools and find the local recreation programs closed because of budget cuts. The real tragedy is that most nutrition-related health problems are preventable and we owe it to our children to give them the opportunity to become healthy, productive adults."

New York State Assembly
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