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Montefiore in the News

April 8, 2010

NYCDOH, Greater NY Hospital Association, and 1199 SEIU Join Montefiore to Spotlight Soaring Obesity Rates and Promote Healthy Lifestyle Choices


Pictured at the soda tax event are (from left) Andrew Goodman, MD, MPH, Deputy Commissioner, NYCDOH; Philip Ozuah, MD, PhD, Chairman of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief, CHAM; Steven M. Safyer, MD, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center; Kenneth E. Raske, President, GNYHA; Maria Castenada, Secretary/Treasurer, 1199SEIU; and Peter Selwyn, MD, MPH, Chairman, Department of Family and Social Medicine at Montefiore.

Bronx, NY (April 9, 2010) - The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC-DOH), the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East joined Montefiore Medical Center today in support of the proposed New York State soda tax. Leaders from the four organizations spoke about the hazards of sugar-sweetened drinks and the value of making healthy lifestyle choices.

The show of support was presented alongside an interactive health fair at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). Exhibitors included CHAM pediatric nutritionists, physicians and other staff who demonstrated healthy food and drink options for local kids and their parents.

"The sugar tax is exactly what's needed now, and it needs strong support from this community," said Steven M. Safyer, MD, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center. "Today, obesity is like the HIV/AIDS and TB epidemic of the 1970s. It is the single highest cause of health problems in the Bronx. In our children's hospital we provide care to children who are suffering from the impact of obesity, including teens with type 2, or adult onset, diabetes."

The proposed penny-per-ounce tax on non-diet sodas and other sugary beverages is aimed at helping to reduce the high rates of obesity and diabetes throughout New York state. It is especially relevant in the Bronx, where obesity and diabetes among adults and children have reached epidemic levels.

"This tax is just what the doctor ordered. It will provide enormous health benefits as well as provide needed funding for healthcare institutions," said Kenneth E. Raske, President, GNYHA.

Maria Castenada, secretary/treasurer of 1199SEIU, also spoke at the event and pledged the union's support of the tax.

According to a city survey, Bronx residents are the highest consumers of sugary beverages, the food group most strongly linked to weight gain.

"I have practiced medicine in this community for 21 years, and every day children come to my office holding bottles of soda. Parents are always surprised when we tell them how many calories are in the soda," said Philip Ozuah, MD, PhD, Chairman of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief, CHAM.


Attending the interactive health fair were Bronx sisters Alexus, Shada and Giselle Hawkins, shown here with Dr. Ozuah.

Dr. Ozuah added that for an average 9 year old to work off calories from daily soda drinking, he or she would have to play two games of full-court basketball every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. "If there is anything we can do to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, we should do it," he said. 

Peter Selwyn, MD, MPH, Chairman, Family and Social Medicine at Montefiore and architect of a comprehensive wellness initiative that offers healthy lifestyle alternatives for Bronx residents, was also on-hand to lend support. "This generation of children is the first in the modern era that's expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. It's an alarming healthcare crisis," Dr. Selwyn said.

According to the NY State Department of Health, a large body of research has identified sodas and other sugary beverages as the leading contributor to increased rates of obesity and diabetes. Research also demonstrates that when the price of a product is increased, such as the tax on cigarettes, consumption of that product decreases.

The tax on sugary beverages is projected to reduce New Yorkers' consumption of those drinks by approximately 15 percent, as New Yorkers switch to lower-cost, healthier water, low-fat milk and zero- or low-calorie drinks. The $1 billion-a-year in revenues produced by the tax will be directed to support health care services and obesity prevention efforts, preventing further cuts to health care and reducing the amount that must be borrowed to address a $9 billion state budget deficit.

"This is one tax that's the good kind: it will help save lives and generate revenue for important healthcare services," said Andrew Goodman, MD, MPH, Deputy Commissioner, NYC Department of Health.

Bronx resident Rashida Hawkins attended the health fair with her three young daughters. "This is an opportunity for my girls to hear the message that it's important to stay healthy and eat right."