New York City Child Obesity Study Supports Need for State Action

Almost half of school children overweight
July 8, 2003
A survey released today by the New York City Health Department found that 43% of elementary school children are either overweight or obese. This is in line with information received by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy at six public hearings around the State and supports his efforts to prevent and reduce this health crisis. Last month the Legislature gave final approval to a bill (A.2800-A/S.2045-A) sponsored by Ortiz, to prevent childhood obesity, and ultimately the deadly health consequences of adult obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The federal government estimates nearly 300,000 deaths each year linked to obesity, which is getting close to the 400,000 annual deaths from tobacco. A recent study reveals that one-third of cancer deaths are linked to nutrition and obesity. Another study found that one in three U.S. children born in 2000 may become diabetic. The odds are worse for black and Hispanic children with nearly half of them likely to develop the disease. The NYC obesity study also found higher rates in minority children. Over one-half million New Yorkers are diabetic and heart attacks are the leading cause of death among New York women. The Cancer Society estimates that direct medical costs from obesity in New York are close to $4.7 billion annually.

According to Ortiz, "Anyone who learns of these research results should understand why I am trying to get the government, business and the public to pay attention to the most costly threat to public health in this country. The problem is just as bad in Upstate cities, suburban communities and rural areas as it is in New York City. 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. Obesity and diabetes are very difficult and persistent problems among adults in our society, therefore the State needs to direct resources to prevent it in childhood."

The Ortiz bill would establish a program in the New York State Department of Health to: develop media nutrition and physical activity promotion campaigns; implement school and community-based programs to improve nutrition and increase physical activity; coordinate obesity prevention strategies in government nutrition and recreation programs; sponsor conference on solutions to childhood obesity; provide training to medical professionals; and, track the prevalence of the problem in the State.

Assemblyman Ortiz also sponsors bills to: require calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content on menus; require health insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy; increase the quality and quantity of physical education in schools; and, fund obesity prevention through a small surcharge on certain foods, video games and other entertainment, and television ads aimed at children.

At six public hearings around the State, Ortiz heard numerous experts who testified that childhood obesity 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. In response, the experts called for policy changes at the local, State and national levels for schools, nutrition programs, health and education programs, physical activity programs, food labeling and advertising. Ortiz responded with his legislation.

"We have to act now to prevent a ticking time bomb that will overwhelm our health care system and resources in the coming years. We have to help local communities and schools develop programs. I hope this new study convinces the Governor to sign the obesity prevention bill into law and make New York a leader in the fight against this epidemic," said Ortiz.