Assembly and Senate Panels Holding Statewide Hearings on Child Health Crisis

Legislators seeking answers to help reduce dramatic rise in childhood obesity
May 16, 2003
The Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, chaired by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (Brooklyn) and the Senate and Assembly Committees on Children and Families, chaired by Senator Mary Lou Rath (Northern Erie and Genesee Counties) and Assemblyman Roger Green (Brooklyn) are jointly sponsoring a series of hearings on Preventing Childhood Obesity at School, at Home and in the Community. The first hearing will be held Thursday June 5, at the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health, the second on Friday, June 6th will be at the Onondaga County Legislative Chambers in Syracuse and the third will be held on Tuesday, June 10th in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

Many believe this problem 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, policy changes have been proposed at the local, State and national levels for schools, nutrition programs, health and education programs, physical activity programs, food labeling and advertising.

According to Assemblyman Ortiz, "The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are telling us that there are now nearly 300,000 deaths each year linked to obesity, which is getting close to the 400,000 annual deaths from tobacco. 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."

Senator Rath said, "The percentage of American children who are obese has doubled in the past 30 years. Obesity in children is the cause of not only Type II Diabetes but it can lead to the early onset of other chronic diseases. If we don't aggressively address this problem now we face future challenges that will bring our health care system to its knees."

Assemblyman Green added, "Families in my community often have limited access to recreational opportunities and nutritious food and the parents are working long hours to get ahead. Businesses and government must help families to solve these health problems or we will all pay for the consequences."

Over one-half million New Yorkers are diabetic, 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 Assembly recently approved a bill (A.2800/S.2045) to create a Childhood Obesity Prevention Program sponsored by Assemblymen Ortiz and Green and Senator Rath. The Senate version is pending on the Senate calendar. The bill would create media programs and school and community-based programs to improve nutrition and increase physical activity, and provide training to medical professionals. Other legislation to be considered at the hearings include the Ortiz/Rath restaurant nutrition labeling bill (A.5520/S.4555) and bills related to Medical Nutrition Therapy (A.6620) and school snack restrictions (A.6563/S.4556).