Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy announced another weapon in his battle against childhood obesity. He is proposing a law that requires fast food and other restaurant chains to list fat, calorie, and sodium levels for items on their menu boards or regular menus.
According to Ortiz, "Parents who take their children to eat at fast food restaurants often search the menus for items suitable for their children. They can choose between medium, large and supersize but they can't choose between lower-calorie or higher-calorie or lower-fat or higher-fat while standing at the counter. My proposal would require fat and calorie levels be listed after the menu item so parents who are concerned about rising levels of obesity can consider what to purchase or whether to purchase an item at all. 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."
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. 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 prevalence of this condition is also much higher in Hispanic and African-American populations. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that obesity costs families, business and governments $117 billion each year.
Ortiz' Task Force will be sponsoring public hearings this year to highlight the problem of childhood obesity and efforts to prevent or reduce it. He will look at changes at school, changes in the marketplace, changes in the community, and assistance for parents. He has already introduced the Childhood Obesity Prevention bill (A.2800) to help address this problem.
"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. That's 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. At the same time fewer children are participating in physical activity in school or anywhere and the opportunities for activity may be more limited with pending budget cuts.