Ortiz Blasts Governor's Failure to Fight Fat

Legislator calls for support for program to fight childhood obesity
February 10, 2003
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy plans to continue his fight to improve the nutritional health of the State's children despite the Governor's proposal to kill a law studying obesity.

Ortiz said, "The Governor needs to talk to his Health Commissioner. Obesity now kills more people than tobacco. Maybe the governor should use some tobacco money to fund my Childhood Obesity Prevention Legislation (A. 2800). I agree that we don't need a special study; the facts are out there - children as young as 10 are getting adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes. Obesity among children more than doubled in the last 20 years. The consequences of doing nothing will devastate our health care system and the future of our workforce. I didn't make up these dire predictions, the Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services both have made obesity a number one health priority."

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.

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.

"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, even at school. We shouldn't jeopardize our students' health by encouraging them to drink more soda to pay for new scoreboards advertising that soda in the gym. Our kids need to eat and drink and learn about healthy foods and have more opportunities for exercise before they all end up with diabetes and other obesity related medical problems. We must change this and that is why I introduced my legislation."

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. The total national budget for nutrition education is only one-fifth the advertising budget for Altoid Mints. 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 drink 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.

Although the Assembly unanimously approved Ortiz' bill last year, the Senate did not, and he plans to vigorously fight for final passage again this year despite the Governor's cavalier attitude toward the most pressing health problem facing our children and their families.