Assembly Addresses Child Health Crisis

Legislation approved to help reduce dramatic rise in childhood obesity
March 24, 2003
The Assembly approved a bill (A.2800/S.2045) today 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.

According to statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) obesity is now considered responsible for almost as many deaths as AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, motor vehicle accidents, murders, suicides, and fires combined. Studies estimate 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. The Ortiz bill would create media programs, school and community-based programs to improve nutrition and increase physical activity, and provide training to medical professionals.

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 prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is also much higher in Hispanic and African -American populations.

According to Ortiz, "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. The costs in health care and lost productivity are estimated at more than $100 million nationally."

The bill was a result of a roundtable and public hearings attended by regional and national experts in obesity. It attempts to address the societal factors that lead to obesity, such as pressure on modern families and the overwhelming influence of food advertising. For example at the public hearing , Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center of Eating and Weight Disorders pointed out that the National Cancer Institute's budget for promoting fruits and vegetables is $1 million while one McDonald's promotional campaign was $500 million. The total national budget for nutrition education is only one-fifth the advertising budget for Altoid Mints.

According to Ortiz, "We need to make an effort to counter the relentless marketing of unhealthy foods to pre-schoolers. We need to help families who are under time- and financial-pressure learn how to better feed their children. We need to provide recreation opportunities for our youth who don't have gym class in underfunded schools and find the local recreation programs closed because of budget cuts. This bill and my restaurant nutrition labeling bill (A.5520) and my Medical Nutrition Therapy bill (A.6620) are part of a comprehensive approach to addressing this issue. 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."

Ortiz looks forward to the State Senate passing the bill and the Governor approving it.