Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica A. Chittenden

April 03, 2009

Governor Paterson Proposes Legislation to Combat Obesity

Bill to Enact the Healthy Schools Act Will Promote Nutrition and Physical Activity Schools

Bill to Ban Artificial Trans Fat Will Eliminate the Use of Harmful Substance in Foods Prepared in Restaurants and Supermarkets

Governor David A. Paterson today announced he has proposed legislation to help fight obesity and promote healthy lifestyles among all New Yorkers. One bill will enact the Healthy Schools Act, which will establish nutritional guidelines on foods served in schools, and require schools to develop wellness policies to increase physical activity among students. The other bill will prohibit trans fats in restaurants and other food service establishments. Both initiatives were unveiled during the Governor’s State of the State address and are part of the State’s War on Obesity.

“When one out of every four New Yorkers under 18 years of age is obese we must recognize that there is a tremendous problem and take steps to engage all New Yorkers in adopting healthier lifestyles,” said Governor Paterson. “The legislation I am announcing today will have a significant impact on the quality and healthfulness of foods made available to children and adults in schools, restaurants and supermarkets, and will help change the way people make nutritional choices.”

The Healthy Schools Act requires the State Education Department – in consultation with the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Markets – to develop regulations establishing nutritional and dietary standards for foods and beverages sold, served or offered in elementary and secondary school. The regulations required by this legislation will set limits on cholesterol, sodium, fat, sugar, and calories, and will require that healthier options such as whole grains, non-sweetened fruit, and non-fried vegetables be more readily available to students. Junk food and soda will not be sold during the school day in school cafeterias, stores or vending machines. However, the regulations will not prohibit classroom celebrations or bake sales held to raise funds for school activities.

The Healthy Schools Act also requires schools districts to develop school wellness policies to ensure community involvement in considering ways to create healthier schools and increase opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day. Such policies are already mandatory for participants in federal meal programs but compliance is not universal.

The Governor’s Trans Fat bill will improve public health by prohibiting the storage, use, service or sale of foods containing artificial trans fats in food service establishments, mobile food establishments and retail food stores. This legislation will affect restaurants, mobile vendors and institutions such as schools and health care facilities which are subject to inspection by the State, city or county health departments, as well as supermarkets and convenience stores inspected by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The ban does not apply to any food contained in a manufacturer’s original package that bears a Nutrition Facts panel, which allows the consumer to see how much trans fat is in the item.

Director of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance (NYSHEPA) Nancy Huehnergarth said: “51 prominent public health, consumer and education organizations support science-based nutrition standards for food and beverage sold and served in New York’s schools. It’s time to remove non-nutritious ‘junk foods’ from school cafeterias, vending machines and school stores and time to bring in healthier fare. Connecticut, New Jersey and other states have already enacted strong school nutrition standards for their children. New York must pass a strong Healthy Schools Act to protect our kids!”

Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, NYS Dr. Henry Schaeffer said: “The childhood obesity epidemic continues to grow statewide. Our children, for the first time in decades, have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, or even their grandparents. This is not the future we had hoped for. We encourage the Governor and our legislative leaders to pass a Healthy Schools Act this year. Simple prevention, eating healthy foods and getting enough exercise are far better health interventions for children than high cost services to treat diabetes, asthma, and other serious diseases caused by obesity. We can and should use public policy to improve children’s health. Giving children healthy food choices in school can and will make a difference in children’s health. It will also provide opportunities for public education for children, parents and the whole school community about healthy nutrition and healthy choices.”

President of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) Michael H. Rosenberg, MD said: “New York State’s physician community strongly supports Governor Paterson’s ongoing work to shape children’s health behaviors through his Healthy Schools Act. The epidemic of childhood obesity must be contained and eliminated in our lifetime. Children across the country are becoming more overweight and obese putting them at risk for serious health concerns such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Through community efforts government remains uniquely positioned to model and reinforce healthful eating and exercise behaviors. MSSNY also supports Governor Paterson’s proposal to assure that foods with trans fats are banned from consumer consumption unless adequately labeled to assure that consumers know the amount of trans fats in foods that they purchase. All New York State physicians are committed to this goal, and look forward to working closely with the Governor and the Department of Health to achieve it.”

State Health Commissioner Richard Daines, M.D., said: “I commend Governor Paterson for his legislation to address the widespread problem of obesity in our State. The Healthy Schools Act will help ensure that our children learn healthy habits from a young age and will have a significant impact in preventing the onset of Type II diabetes and other obesity-related diseases. In addition, the medical and scientific evidence is overwhelming that artificial trans fats have no health benefit whatsoever and in fact contribute to serious medical problems such as coronary disease. These fats have no legitimate place in the diet and should be banned from use in the preparation of food.”

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said: “New York’s farm families produce a variety of fresh, wholesome products that are both nutritious and abundant. The Governor’s initiative will develop standards for the types of foods and beverages served in schools, allowing us to help address the obesity epidemic among children by incorporating more fresh foods that are locally grown and hopefully create lasting teachable moments for children in relation to food choices. Moreover, one of the Department’s primary functions is to ensure a safe and wholesome food supply for all New Yorkers. Therefore, we are pleased to support Governor Paterson’s initiative to limit the number of foods with artificial trans fats, and are dedicated to working with food processors throughout the State to reduce the use of these unhealthy ingredients.”

Both bills have been submitted to the Legislature for introduction. Other obesity initiatives announced by the Governor in the State of the State address are in development, such as legislation to require calorie labeling in restaurants. In addition, First Lady Michelle Paige Paterson’s “Healthy Steps to Albany: First Lady’s Challenge,” which encourages 6th, 7th and 8th graders to exercise, began in several cities last month and will continue through April.

2009 Press Releases