Press Release - Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz
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May 18, 2005
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

It’s Six O’clock at The Chain Restaurant, Do You Know How Many Calories Your Kids Are Eating?
Legislation Would Require Calorie, Fat, Sugar and Sodium Content for Chain Restaurants

(Albany, NY) - Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy was joined today by Dr. Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Washington, DC based Center for Science n the Public Interest (CSPI) to push for passage of A5664/S4551, his bill that requires fast food and other foodservice chains to list calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium levels for items on their menu boards or regular menus. The NYC Department of Health and the NYS Dietetic Association have also expressed support for the bill. The bill was recently approved by the Assembly Health Committee and introduced in the Senate. There is an intense lobbying battle building over the legislation and Ortiz, who shepherded the first car cell-phone ban in the nation, is rallying supporters to fight the major corporations opposing him.

This legislation is the number one priority for Ortiz who has been waging a four year effort to combat childhood obesity in New York State. The NYC Health Department found that nearly half of elementary-aged children are overweight. According to the NYS WIC Association over 32% of the children age 2-5 who are participating in NYS are overweight or at risk of being overweight. It is estimated that $3.5 billion of New York’s Medicaid spending is due to obesity, by far the highest level of any State. This year the State budget includes $1.5 million for the State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program sponsored by Ortiz.

Ortiz said, "Some people believe this generation of kids will be the first in history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Everyone needs to be part of the solution or we will all pay the consequences. My bill does not mandate what restaurants serve or how they cook it. I don’t believe it will overburden the large corporations affected and it might just benefit their customer’s waistlines as well as restaurant bottom-lines.

Consumers already get nutrition labeling at the supermarket. However, they are now getting more food from restaurants than years ago and they can’t tell that a sweetened coffee drink at one chain may have as many fat and calories as a cheeseburger with fries at another. Food industry critics of government efforts to fight the obesity problem claim that it is up to parents to choose healthier foods to eat. Restaurant nutrition information could empower parents, and children, to do a better job," said Ortiz.

In 1970, Americans spent just 26% of their food dollars on foods prepared outside their homes but today spend almost half of food dollars eating out. The average American consumes about one third of their calories from foods from restaurants and other food-service establishments. Portion sizes have been increasing and studies show that people tend to eat greater quantities of food when they are served more. Children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat out compared to home. It is not uncommon for a restaurant entree to provide half of a day’s recommended calories, saturated and trans fat, and sodium.

Nutrition labeling is required on most packaged foods found in supermarkets under federal law. Ortiz’ bill would apply to fast food and other restaurant chains, convenience chains, donut and cookie chains and similar foodservice operations with 10 or more outlets, nationally and 5 or more in New York State. If the chain only has menu boards and no menus to hand out, only calorie information is required. The bill does not apply to small, family -run restaurants, it does not apply to special orders, and the chains only have to label items as they appear on the menu and as typically prepared and offered for sale.

"As Task Force Chair I have learned about the dramatic rise in obesity among our children and how corporations target their advertising to this vulnerable population. Our kids spend too much time watching TV and when they do they are bombarded with 10,000 food ads per year. French fries are the most common vegetable consumed by 18 month old children. While fast food meals are not the only contributors to obesity they are commonly eaten by children and the chains target children with advertising and toy giveaways. That is why I am introducing this bill."

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