December 18, 2002
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
Protect Kids from Toxic Food Environment

Legislator Plans Fight to Protect Children in School From Purveyors of Soda, Fast Food and Other Junk Foods to Help Reduce Dramatic Rise in Childhood Obesity

(Albany, NY) Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, plans to continue his fight for the nutritional health of the State's children by protecting them from the continuous advertising designed to lure them into being lifelong consumers of high-fat, high sugar food products. His Task Force will be sponsoring public hearings early next year to examine food marketing targeted at young children, the nutritional status of New York school children, and the use of schools to market unhealthy food products. A Task Force sponsored 1987 law already bans the sale of soda and candy in schools until after the last lunch period but many are calling for more regulation.

Ortiz said, "As Task Force Chair I have learned about the dramatic rise in obesity among our children and how corporations target their advertising to this vulnerable population, even at school. We shouldn't jeopardize our students' health by encouraging them to drink more soda to pay for new scoreboards advertising that soda in the gym. Our kids need to eat and drink and learn about healthy foods and have more opportunities for exercise before they all end up with diabetes and other obesity related medical problems. We must change this and that is why I introduced my Childhood Obesity Prevention bill (2002 A.7939/S.5451)."

New York State has a higher childhood obesity rate than the national average and rates among Hispanic and African-American children are even higher: 22% of Black, 20% of Latino, and 19% of White sixth grade children are overweight in New York City. A recent study found that one in four obese children have early signs of Type II diabetes. The prevalence of Type II diabetes is also much higher in Hispanic and African-American populations.

At a Task Force public hearing on childhood obesity earlier this year, Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center of Eating and Weight Disorders pointed out that the National Cancer Institute's budget for promoting fruits and vegetables is $1 million while one McDonald's promotional campaign was $500 million. The total national budget for nutrition education is only one-fifth the advertising budget for Altoid Mints

Although the Assembly unanimously approved Ortiz' bill, the Senate did not, and he plans to vigorously fight for final passage next year. In addition, he plans more hearings on the issue of child nutrition in school and at home. These hearings will examine "pouring rights", where soda companies negotiate exclusive contracts to market their products in schools, and marketing of "junk food" to children at school, at home, at the mall and the rest of society. According to Dr. Brownell and other experts our families live in a "toxic" food and health environment where they are constantly encouraged to buy high-calorie, low-nutrition food and drink in ever growing portion sizes. At the same time fewer children are participating in physical activity in school or anywhere.

"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 address it in childhood. Our schools need to be safe places for our children's health and well-being, not another place for food businesses to boost sales," said Ortiz.

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