"A school should be a place where children develop the good habits that will support them for their lifetimes," Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, 90th AD, stated at a press conference today to announce the legislation she co-sponsored with Senator Mary Lou Rath, 61st SD, (A.6563/S.4556). The bill requires the removal of non-nutritious foods and beverages, such as soda and candy, from New York State school vending machines during school hours. This legislation would encourage schools to replace these items with healthier choices like milk, bottled water and fresh fruit.
"We must reverse a problem reaching epidemic proportion – childhood obesity," Assemblywoman Galef stated. She calls this "a fight we cannot lose because it deals with the health and lives of our children."
More than 20 percent of New York State’s children are overweight. Because of this, physicians are seeing weight-related illnesses in children that used to occur almost solely in adults. These include Type II diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes by high school graduation if current trends are allowed to continue.
The financial burden of this epidemic is staggering. In a January 4, 2004 release the CDC revealed that obesity-related illness cost U.S. taxpayers $75 billion in medical expenses in the year 2003. Assemblywoman Galef notes that "schools are looking for revenue from the vending machines ... but later on we’ll be spending that money, and more, on long-term healthcare."
"Childhood obesity has become a serious health problem," stated Assemblyman Steven Sanders, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. "Obviously, schools should be leading the way to a solution. School vending machines should offer healthy and nutritious snacks to children during school hours. If they sell candy, soda, or other non-nutritious items, those items should only be available during after-school functions."
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition, added, "I have been working with Assemblywoman Galef for the last two years to prevent and reduce childhood obesity. This problem is costly to our children’s health as well as the schools, businesses, workers and governments that will have to pay much higher health insurance bills in the years to come if we do nothing. We cannot improve our economy or society without healthy, educated and productive Americans. We cannot have productive, successful Americans unless they grow up with proper nutrition."
But vending machines can become a win-win propositions for schools – both profitable and healthy. Joanne Ricapito, Food Services Director of Westchester County’s Lakeland Central School District, pointed out that Lakeland increased its profits from vending after switching from the standard soda and candy machines to those that sell nutritious products. Ms. Ricapito emphasized that "It is not our responsibility but our obligation to provide our children with foods that will help them perform better. Healthy foods such as garden salads with grilled chicken,
fresh fruit salads, yogurt parfaits, sandwiches, wraps, milk, fruit & vegetable juices are just some of the items that we sell through vending machines in our schools. I am here to tell you that it can be done, it is being done, and it works."
In a memorandum of support for the legislation, The American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, New York, stated that "Obesity has become an epidemic with significant consequences to the physical, psychological and financial health of the nation. Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and fatty liver are some of the conditions exacerbated by obesity. Overweight individuals often suffer from low self-esteem. A great start would be to eliminate junk food and soda from our schools." Dr. David Clark, American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, Youth Advocacy Committee Chairman, spoke at the conference.
Paul Hartman, Director of Advocacy for the American Heart Association, asserted that "Over 25% of children ages 5 to 10 years have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other early warning signs for heart disease. We must strive to positively impact the choices our children make in regards to their health. This legislation serves as another stepping stone towards a healthier school-aged population.
American Cancer Society Director of Advocacy Michael Bopp delivered the Society’s statement at the conference. According to American Cancer Society Eastern Division CEO Donald Distasio, "American Cancer Society research shows a direct correlation between obesity and cancer. By banning junk food and soda on public school grounds and replacing them with healthy choices, we can put our children on the path to good health."
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin stated, "It shouldn’t surprise anyone that healthy children learn better. Assemblywoman Galef should be commended for working toward instilling better nutrition and smarter eating habits in our children. Limiting the availability of junk food in school vending machines is a smart step toward helping children to do better in the classroom and live longer, healthier lives."