Ortiz Introduces Bill to Raise Funds for Obesity Prevention

Legislation increases levies on certain foods, games and entertainment to create state obesity fund
June 18, 2003
Today Assemblyman Felix Ortiz introduced the bill that has been described as a "fat tax" or "couch potato tax" but really creates a funding stream to pay for preventing and reducing the shocking obesity epidemic affecting all of our society.

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) 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. Earlier this week a researcher announced that a staggering 53 percent of healthy 2 to 3 year old Hispanic girls and 45 percent of the boys are likely to develop diabetes.

According to Ortiz, "Anyone who learns of these research results should understand why I will do whatever it takes to get the government and public to pay attention to the most costly threat to public health in this country. If businesses and government don't become partners in a concerted effort to change the trend in eating and exercise habits, the few cents per person I am proposing to spend on prevention now will be dwarfed by the billions in additional hospital and doctor visit costs in 20 years."

The Ortiz bill would require an additional ¼ of one percent sales tax on: food and drink currently taxed, except for bottled water; the sale and rental of video and computer games, and video game equipment; and, the sale and rental of video and DVD movies. There would also be a new 1 percent sales tax on untaxed food and drink that are defined as sweets or snacks according to the federal National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and on admission to movie theaters. Corporations would pay a tax on their New York share of advertising these products on television shows primarily watched by children under 18. The revenues raised would be deposited in a Childhood Obesity Prevention Program fund for the purposes of the NYS Childhood Obesity Prevention Program.

At six public hearings around the State experts 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 fewer opportunities for exercise and physical activity. They also reported nearly $5 billion annually in New York State obesity-related health costs, including as much as 50% of all Medicaid costs.

"Although many have mistakenly spoken about out-of-control taxes, this legislation is very modest. If you purchased a kid's meal at $4.00 it would cost an extra penny! If you bought a Playstation 2 at $200, it would cost an extra 50 cents! However, my bill would still raise close to $50 million for nutrition education and exercise or physical activity programs in neighborhoods where there are no gyms but many fast food restaurants. I am also looking at tax incentives to encourage families and businesses to take steps to prevent obesity but this problem is much worse in low-income communities where they can't afford to even pay for something to deduct on their taxes. This bill isn't about taxing; it is about preventing a teenager from needing a daily insulin injection or a 3rd grader from being taunted about their appearance, and preventing health insurance premiums from skyrocketing. 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," said Ortiz.

Assemblyman Ortiz already sponsors other bills to: create media programs and school and community-based programs to improve nutrition and increase physical activity, and provide training to medical professionals; require nutrition labeling on chain restaurant menus; require health insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy; and, increase the quality and quantity of physical education in schools.