By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The man who first brought you the idea of posting calorie counts on McDonald’s menu is calling together a group of health experts for an “obesity summit” to discuss ways to encourage weight loss.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park) is joining together with the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) and other groups to develop strategies to improve programs to reduce obesity of Hispanic children.
The "Early Childhood Obesity Hispanic Leadership Summit" will take place on Feb. 8, at the New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Ave. from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Ortiz, chairman of the State Assembly/Senate Hispanic Task Force, has been on a crusade for 10 years to get residents of the state to lose weight and live healthier lives. It was Ortiz who first came up with the suggestion that fast food restaurants be required to post the amount of calories in the foods they serve. In 2008, Ortiz introduced a bill to have calorie counts be posted, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported.
The New York City Board of Health later adopted the idea and now calorie count posters can be found in all major fast food chains.
Ortiz said he is concerned about the adverse effects obesity has on one’s health. Being overweight can lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease, he said. "This epidemic hits home for me because of the significant impact on the community I represent. Hispanics are at higher risk for obesity-related illness and death. We need to make these communities healthier by changing the environment to make it easier to consume nutritious foods, increase physical activity and access health care that supports these changes," he said.
Dr. Elena Rios, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said doctors are on the front lines in the battle against obesity. “Physicians are among the first to see overweight or eating disorders of children at 'well baby' visits," she said. “And with healthcare reform, Hispanic physicians will be educating more families on what to do about it. We look forward to helping our policymakers and leaders build health programs that are culturally competent to meet this demand," Rios said.
The National Hispanic Medical Association represents over 45,000 Hispanic physicians and advocates for better federal and State health policies.
A study conducted by the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2010, Hispanic Americans were 1.2 times as likely to be obese as non-Hispanic whites.
Another study, conducted by the New York City Department of Health, in 2009 found that nearly 40 percent of the city’s school children were overweight.
The purpose of the summit is to discuss the barriers against current programs, according to Ortiz, who said the panel will also discuss strategies for future programs in education and in healthcare that impact the health of Hispanics in early childhood.
A second summit will take place in California in next month. The National Hispanic Medical Association will announce its policy and program recommendations at its annual conference in April in Washington DC.