Press Release - Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz
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The Assembly

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January 12, 2005
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

Groups Urge Governor to Fund
Childhood Obesity Prevention Program

Advocates and Legislator Welcome 'State of State'
Mention and Seek Budget Item As Well

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy joined health and nutrition advocates in Albany today to call on the Governor to add significant new funding for the State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program when he releases his budget next week.

Those participating included Paul Hartman of the American Heart Association, Michael Bopp of the American Cancer Society, Vito Grasso of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, Renee Hanks of the NYS School Foodservice Association, Edie Mesick of the Nutrition Consortium of NYS (NCNYS), Stephanie L. Madison of the Statewide Center for Healthy Schools, Amie Hamlin of New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunches, Harry Dunsker of Nutrition & Fitness for a Healthy New York, and Mary Beth McCue, RD, of Saratoga Nutrition.

The Program, sponsored by Assemblyman Ortiz was signed into law late in 2003 but no specific appropriation was included in the 2004-05 budget. Last week the Governor mentioned the crisis in his State of the State address, "The continuing emergence of childhood obesity is one of our nation's most serious health concerns. It affects up to 30% of our children and can lead to serious health problems later in life including diabetes and heart disease." He also proposed using two professional athletes to help combat childhood obesity.

"This may be the most important public health program of the 21st Century because we are facing a growing epidemic which not only kills people today but may overwhelm our State's health and financial resources in the coming years," said Ortiz. "I am pleased the Governor has recognized the need for action; now he needs to dedicate significant funding to do the job right."

A study commissioned by the CDC found that $75 billion is spent nationally each year on obesity-related medical costs, half of it with public dollars through Medicaid and Medicare. It was estimated that $3.5 billion of New York's Medicaid spending is due to obesity, by far the highest level of any State. Very little is spent on obesity prevention.

The NYC Health Department found that nearly half of elementary-aged children are overweight. According to the NYS WIC Association over 32% of the children age 2-5 who are participating in New York State are overweight or at risk of being overweight. This leads to illnesses such as diabetes in young children. CDC research determined that one in three U.S. children born in 2000 will become diabetic in their lifetimes unless children start eating less and exercising more.

"The American Heart Association calls upon New York State to make the financial commitment necessary to reduce the incidence of pediatric obesity. If we do not act today to curb the sedentary and inactive lifestyles of our children, we will be faced with a generation that fails to achieve the same life expectancy of their parents." said Paul Hartman, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association. "Failure to equip our children with a road map for healthy living will result in our children utilizing their math skills to calculate their healthcare costs, and their science knowledge to understand the diseases that are cutting their lives short."

Renee Hanks of the New York State School Food Service Association stated, "In 2003 we adopted a "Choose Sensibly" campaign for snack foods sold in schools. The campaign is designed to encourage students to Choose Sensibly snacks as part of their daily diet. It is very difficult to counteract the marketing messages that often accompany choices which are less sensible.

We need a strong marketing campaign to support the right choices, but there is very little funding in local districts to support this. By providing funding for this initiative, New York State can take the lead in helping students practice the nutrition education they are receiving in the classroom."

According to Vito Grasso, CAE, Executive Vice President, New York State Academy of Family Physicians, "The New York State Academy of Family Physicians strongly agrees with Governor Pataki, Assemblyman Ortiz and the growing chorus of other public officials that childhood obesity is emerging as the leading public health concern in the nation. The Academy supported enactment of the State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program and encourages the Governor and Legislature to commit sufficient resources to permit the immediate implementation of this important new public health initiative. Childhood obesity represents a multi-million dollar cost to New York State in publicly financed health care. A generous appropriation to support the State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program would be an investment in prevention through promotion of public education, nutrition and exercise programs, training for medical professionals and coordination of education and prevention activities."

Amie Hamlin of New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunches said, "Over 80% of children are not getting the vegetables and fruits they need each day. 50% of 2 - 15 year olds have fatty streaks in their arteries, literally, the beginning stages of heart disease because of poor eating habits. Offering a plant-based option at meal times each day will help to promote vegetable, fruit, whole grain and legume consumption. In order to help schools provide healthier food and educate our children to prevent obesity we need more State funding."

"Nutrition assistance programs, like WIC, School Breakfast and Food Stamps, are very important tools in the fight against obesity. Participation in these programs assures that low-income children and families can eat nutritious foods on a regular basis - which is key to having enough energy to learn, keep active and be productive" noted Edie Mesick, ED of NCNYS.

The Obesity Prevention Program would: 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.

"Everywhere I traveled in the State, rural, suburban and urban communities, we learned this is a serious problem. 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. Billions are spent on health care and billions are spent on advertising food; although I think we need much more, $1 million in new State funding for the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program is the minimum needed to help reverse this epidemic." added Ortiz.

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