Press Release - Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz
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Brooklyn, NY 11220
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The Assembly

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June 23, 2005
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

Corporate Restaurants Fight Children’s Health Initiative
Legislation Would Require Calorie, Fat, Sugar and Sodium Content for Chain Restaurants

(Albany, NY) - Last night Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy fought to pass his bill (A.5664/S.4551) 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. Unfortunately, the lobbyists for the chain restaurants and food establishments worked overtime to prevent passage of the bill this session although it will be back for another day.

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. 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. The businesses affected are worried about the impact on their profits but they should be worried about the thousands of children in this State who need to change their diets to avoid record levels of obesity and diabetes. They should worry about the billions of dollars of Medicaid costs this bill can help prevent. They should be worried about the lawsuits this bill may prevent because disclosing information helps protect the restaurant too. I will continue to work to pass this bill. I am not going away. I choose the children and families of this State, not a few billion-dollar corporations who supposedly can’t afford to help educate our citizens."

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