May 29, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

Advocates, Healthcare Professionals Join Assemblyman at
Childhood Obesity Press Conference

(Albany, NY) Miss New York State, Kelly M. Falgiano, joined Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy to promote legislation to address the problem of childhood obesity. A representative of the Hudson Valley Dietetic Association from Glens Falls, two Registered Dieticians from Albany Medical Center, a consultant Dietician from Greenfield, New York, and a representative of the New York State Physical Activity Coalition based in Buffalo, NY also participated. Miss Falgiano's background as a nurse and fitness instructor helped inspire her platform, which is focused on the health consequences of inactivity among children and adults.

Recent reports describe an "epidemic" of childhood obesity. The rate of childhood obesity has been on the rise both nationally and in New York State. The percentage of American children who are obese has doubled in the past 30 years, and currently 20% of New York school children are overweight; in fact, New York State has a higher childhood obesity rate than the national average. Black and Latino children have somewhat higher rates of obesity than White children: 22% of Black, 20% of Latino, and 19% of White sixth grade children are overweight in New York City. In Warren County 42% of the children in a Head Start program are at risk for overweight and 46% of middle-school children in a school-based health program were overweight. Over 45% of those middle school children had high blood pressure.

According to Ortiz, "This is a serious health issue 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 is a very difficult and persistent problem among adults in our society, therefore the State needs to direct resources to prevent it in childhood."

Miss New York State added, "Our nation is experiencing a health crisis; and I believe that, by motivating young people to take responsibility for their health, this trend can be reversed."

Childhood obesity increases the risk of adult obesity with its well-known health complications, but this past year studies reported an increase of high blood pressure, sleep apnea, Type II diabetes, and decreased physical ability in children. Overweight children are more likely to skip breakfast, consume larger quantities of high calorie snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, spend more time watching television, and be a part of a low-income household. Studies have shown that by ninth grade about 70% of females and 50% of males do not participate in vigorous physical activity. The average child from 6 to 11 years of age watches 25 hours of TV a week and sees 10,000 food ads a year.

"Children are less active especially if they are stuck at home because of parents working late. Families are also eating more food prepared out of the home because of busy parents and the foods are not the most nutritious. We need to look at the medical reasons for increased obesity in children but we also need to look at the societal changes. These are problems in areas such as my Assembly district, mostly Hispanic, where parents work long hours at low paying jobs, where there are few recreational opportunities and where food choices are not the best. My proposed legislation is just part of necessary changes in the way our society treats children," said Ortiz.

Assemblyman Ortiz introduced legislation (A. 7939) last week that would create a Childhood Obesity Prevention Program in the NYS Department of Health. The program would: develop media campaigns to increase consumption of low-calorie, high-nutrient foods and decrease consumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods; establish school-based and community-based childhood obesity prevention programs including physical activity; incorporate strategies to prevent and reduce childhood obesity into government programs; sponsor conferences to examine societal-based solutions to the problem of childhood obesity and issue recommendations for NYS policy; and, develop training programs for medical and other health professionals.

"I would like to see more schools have nutritionists working with children, and their families, who are at risk from obesity. As we heard from Sandra McNeill, in Warren County the children are not only increasing their weight but their blood pressure. This must be a public health priority."

This program would receive funding from a portion of existing sales tax revenue from some of the very products that contribute to obesity. Soda, candy, fast food meals and other non-essential foods are taxed in New York State. A recent study suggests an extra soft drink a day gives a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese and take-out food, consisting of larger portion sizes and higher calorie foods, now account for over 30% of a family's food expenditures.

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