Today the Senate and Assembly gave final approval to a bill (A.2800a/S.2045a) sponsored by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy to prevent childhood obesity, and ultimately the deadly health consequences of adult obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Ortiz thanked Senator Rath for her sponsorship and support of the bill.
The federal government estimates nearly 300,000 deaths each year linked to obesity, which is getting close to the 400,000 annual deaths from tobacco. A recent study reveals that one-third of cancer deaths are linked to nutrition and obesity. Another study found that one in three U.S. children born in 2000 may become diabetic. The odds are worse for black and Hispanic children with nearly half of them likely to develop the disease. Over one-half million New Yorkers are diabetic and heart attacks are the leading cause of death among New York women. The Cancer Society estimates that direct medical costs from obesity in New York are close to $4.7 billion annually.
According to Ortiz, "Anyone who learns of these research results should understand why I am trying to get the government, business and the public to pay attention to the most costly threat to public health in this country. 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 developed this bill."
The Ortiz bill would establish a program in the New York State Department of Health to: develop media nutrition and physical activity promotion campaigns; implement school and community-based programs to improve nutrition and increase physical activity; coordinate obesity prevention strategies in government nutrition and recreation programs; sponsor conference on solutions to childhood obesity; provide training to medical professionals; and, track the prevalence of the problem in the State.
Assemblyman Ortiz also sponsors bills to: require calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content on menus; require health insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy; increase the quality and quantity of physical education in schools; and, fund obesity prevention through a small surcharge on certain foods, video games and other entertainment, and television ads aimed at children.
At six public hearings around the State, Ortiz heard numerous experts who testified that childhood obesity is tied to increased consumption of snacks, soft drinks, and fast foods, increased sedentary activities, such as watching TV and playing video games, and decreased opportunities for exercise and physical activity. Food and beverage business practices, television advertising, school policies, suburban development, cultural differences, and busy parents are among the factors cited as contributing to the increase in obesity. In response, the experts called for policy changes at the local, State and national levels for schools, nutrition programs, health and education programs, physical activity programs, food labeling and advertising. Ortiz responded with his legislation.
"We have to act now to prevent a ticking time bomb that will overwhelm our health care system and resources in the coming years. 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. This is a first step to turn things around and put us on the right track. I trust the Governor will join Senator Rath and me, sign this law and make New York a leading light in the fight against this crisis," said Ortiz.