Press Release - Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz
District Office

404 55th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 492-6334

The Assembly

Room 542
Legislative Office Bldg.
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-3821

Can We Get Some Information With Those Fries?

Everyone knows that obesity is a serious problem. Obesity rates nationwide doubled in adults and tripled in children over the last twenty years. The NYC Health Department found that nearly half of elementary-aged children are overweight. The financial toll is staggering: an estimated $3.5 billion of New York’s Medicaid spending is obesity-related, by far the highest level of any state.

This crisis is a result of changes in individual behavior and society as a whole, including sedentary lifestyles and a shift in eating habits. In 1970, Americans spent 26% of food dollars eating out but today spend almost 50%. Americans consume about one-third of calories at restaurants and other food establishments. Children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat out compared to home. Unfortunately, calorie and other nutrition information is not always available.

Since 1994, nutrition labeling has been mandated for packaged foods at supermarkets but not at restaurants. You can’t tell that a sweetened coffee drink at one chain has as much fat and calories as a cheeseburger meal at another. Most people recognize fattening foods, but even nutritionists fail to correctly guess the calorie and fat levels of food when dining out. Surveys reveal that two-thirds of Americans support more nutrition information. We need to give it to them.

I have introduced legislation, A.5664, requiring large chains - defined as 10 or more restaurants or stores - to list calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium levels. Chains have standardized menus and offerings, making it easier to do. The bill would apply only to regular menu items; special orders would not be affected. Enforcement provisions would be reasonable; stores would not get fined because a counter person put too much cream cheese on a bagel one day.

Although some opponents have called this a "nanny" bill designed to control consumer choice, the proposal does not mandate what the chains serve or how they cook. However, who would complain if the nutrition listings result in businesses offering more wholesome options.

This bill is part of a comprehensive approach to obesity reduction. I sponsored the State’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Program, and introduced legislation to increase school physical education and provide insurance coverage for nutrition counseling. Government programs are essential, but they operate in a confusing food "environment" making it difficult for effective education. Nutrition listings at chain restaurants and food establishments would help families make informed choices at the point-of-purchase.

Some researchers believe that the obesity epidemic will doom this generation of kids to a shorter life expectancy than ours. Everyone needs to be part of the solution or we all, including chain food businesses, will pay the consequences through higher health insurance and Medicaid costs. Critics of government efforts to fight child obesity often claim that it is the parents’ responsibility to choose healthy foods. Let’s give them a chance by providing nutrition information where families eat, and empower parents, and children, to do a better job.

You can reach Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the New York State Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy at (518) 455-3821 or