Governor Urged To Address Child Health Epidemic

Assemblyman and Advocates Urge Governor to Sign Law Creating An Obesity Prevention Program
September 24, 2003
(New York, NY) – Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy joined health advocates in NYC today to call on Governor Pataki to approve Ortiz’s legislation, A.2800-A/S.2045-A, to create a State childhood obesity prevention program to reduce the deadly future consequences such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The bill unanimously passed both houses of the Legislature in June and was sent to the Governor last Thursday for his consideration.

This past summer the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated the following, "The obesity epidemic is the No. 1 health threat in the United States. It has all the characteristics of a mass epidemic. ... We are going to see unprecedented increases in chronic diseases if we don't get this obesity epidemic under control."

The NYC Health Department found that nearly half of elementary-aged children are overweight. Nationally nearly 300,000 deaths each year are linked to obesity, close to the 400,000 annual deaths from tobacco. Over one-half million New Yorkers are diabetic and heart attacks are the leading cause of death among New York women. One in three U.S. children born in 2000 may become diabetic at some point in their lives; nearly half of black and Hispanic children are likely to develop the disease. The Cancer Society estimates that medical costs from obesity in New York are close to $4.7 billion annually and 55% of Medicaid recipients exceed a healthy weight.

According to Ortiz, “Anyone who learns of these facts should understand why it is imperative that we respond now to the most costly threat to public health in this country. 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. That is why the Governor must sign this bill.”

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.

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. Most nutrition-related health problems are preventable and we owe it to our children to give them the opportunity to become healthy, productive adults. That is why I wrote the following to the Governor ‘…your approval of this law would leave a lasting legacy for the future health and well- being of New York State children and their families. New York can be a leader in tackling this problem now and reap the rewards of healthier, more productive citizens who will not be burdened with out-of-control health care and health insurance costs.’” said Ortiz.