-by Ryan Eick
Nobody wants to be the fat kid. Unfortunately, over 1-in-5 NYC kindergartners are not only fat – they are obese.
This oversized statistic is the reason the New York City Council’s Committee on Health heard testimony this afternoon, to identify and address the (really) Big Apple’s “weight problem.”
In the US, obesity levels nearly doubled between 1991 and 2001. According to today’s presentation by Dr. Lynn Silver of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that trend is especially apparent in the 5 boroughs where 56 percent of adults are overweight.
Although these figures may be staggering, the greatest concern in City Hall today was not its voluptuous voters – but their children. Childhood obesity has already claimed 27 percent of Head Start students in NYC. That means that over 1-in-4 New Yorkers are overweight before they reach kindergarten.
To clarify, a person with a body mass index (BMI: a measure of body fat in relation to height and weight) under 25 is considered to be of a healthy weight. From 25 – 29.9 is “overweight,” and the obese are those who have a BMI of 30 or more.
“We need to be as strong with this as we have been with the cigarette campaign,” said Councilman Joel Rivera, Chair of the Health Committee, who recently proposed a bill that would bump the smoking age to 21 in his district. After smoking, obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the city.
NYC has already instituted a number of initiatives to combat the growing problem. The Physical Best Program established a physical fitness curriculum in public schools that assesses students’ performance and monitors their BMIs. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has also increased nutrition standards in school meals, lowering fat and sodium content while emphasizing whole wheat and low-fat milk.
But today’s speakers were not satisfied. They called on the government to take action across the board, pointing directly at school programs, city planning and modern culture.
“Obesity and diabetes are the Hurricane Katrina of the healthcare system,” said Dr. Peter Sheehan, Director of the Diabetes Center of Greater New York. “We could see it coming and still we’re unprepared.” Like heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer, the chance of a person developing diabetes increases several-fold with obesity.
According to Rivera, the big fat epidemic has targeted black, Hispanic and less-affluent communities. To counter this phenomenon, the city has established district public health offices (DPHOs) to lead fitness and nutrition initiatives in communities disproportionately affected by health disparities.
But obesity is a problem that affects the plump and thin alike. By the year 2002, obesity related illnesses cost the US an estimated $117 billion and New York state more than $6 billion, according to the New York State Depatment of Health.
Whether the city responds with a tobacco-style campaign or stays on its couch…with snacks…obesity is a big problem in NYC - and it is only getting bigger.