Obesity Issues in New York State

Article excerpt

"Many people in the United States and abroad are coming together to address the issue of childhood obesity, yet some of those we need to talk to the most are not sitting in the room." With this opener, New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm, and Nutrition Policy, called on the participation of corporate America in dealing with this critical challenge to the public's health, in the presentation "Obesity Issues in New York State" at the Ecology of Obesity conference held at Cornell June 6 and 7, 2005.

"Our children and grandchildren will be employed by them," Ortiz continued. "I do not believe it is in the interest of corporate America, or of the government, that only the not-for-profits are looking out for our children."

Ortiz, Democrat from the 51st district, has authored and pressed for the passage of numerous bills to mobilize the power of the Assembly to make New York a leader in, as Ortiz puts it, "doing the right thing."

Two bills currently pending, A05664 and A05665, would impact corporate America. The former amends the public health law to require chain restaurants to provide the calorie, saturated and trans fat, carbohydrate, and sodium contents of foods they serve. The latter, euphemistically referred to as the "fat tax," would add an additional 1/4 of 1 percent sales tax on sweets and snack foods as well as on the sale and rental of video and computer games, video game equipment, and video and DVD movies. The revenues--estimated to exceed $50 million annually--would be used solely to help fund childhood obesity prevention programs throughout the state.

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On another front, the New York State Department of Health's "Activ8 Kids!" program aims to have all New York children, by the age of eight, each day consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, getting an hour or more of physical activity, and sitting in front of a TV or computer fewer than two hours.

"Many people recognize that obesity is an individual problem, but by focusing on the effects on young children, we are gradually seeing that it is a public health problem," explained Barbara Dennison, director of the Bureau of Health Risk Reduction at the health department. …

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