Stop 'Supersizing' Our Kids and Families

Legislation requires labeling of menus with fat and calorie levels
March 11, 2003
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy was joined by Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Washington, DC based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to push for passage of A.5520 his bill that requires fast food and other foodservice chains to list fat, calorie, and sodium levels for items on their menu boards or regular menus.

According to Ortiz, "As more busy families eat out they may search menus for items suitable for themselves and their children but they can't really know what is higher-calorie or lower-fat while standing at the counter. How many people would guess that a fast food chain's milkshake may have more calories and fat than their burger with cheese or that a coffee chain's Frappuccino has more than the milkshake?! My proposal would help consumers who are concerned about rising levels of obesity to decide what to order. McDonalds' is doing this in England, why can't they do it here?"

"We congratulate Assemblyman Ortiz for fighting to give New Yorkers better information about their food choices," said Wootan. "Too often, nutrition information in chain restaurants is hard to find, hard to read, or missing altogether. This bill would take the guesswork out of restaurant dining."

Nutrition labeling is required on most packaged foods found in supermarkets under federal law. Restaurants only have to provide nutrition information if they make a health claim. 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.

Obesity among children has more than doubled in the last 20 years. 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 2 diabetes. The future costs of this crisis are alarming. CSPI reports that obesity costs families, business and governments over $100 billion each year.

"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 at home, at the mall and even at school. Our kids are spending too much time watching TV and when they do they are bombarded with 10,000 food ads per year. They and their parents need to combat these campaigns with information about what they are putting in their bodies. 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. That is why I am introducing this bill."

At a Task Force public hearing on childhood obesity last year, 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. According to Dr. Brownell and other experts our families live in a "toxic" food and health environment where they are constantly encouraged to buy high-calorie, low-nutrition food and drinks in ever growing portion sizes.

Ortiz' Task Force will be sponsoring more hearings this year to highlight this problem and examine efforts to prevent or reduce it. Ortiz has also introduced A.2800, creating a childhood obesity prevention program and a bill to require insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy, A.6620.