State Health Commissioner Kicks Off 15-County National Public Health Week Tour in Rensselaer County

Visits Capital District Community Gardens, Highlights Local Public Health Efforts, Stresses Obesity Prevention

TROY, N.Y (April 5, 2010) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., was joined by local officials, public health workers and students during a visit today to the Capital District Community Gardens' Urban Farm in Troy, where he kicked off a 15-county tour to showcase the importance of local public health efforts in New York State.

Commissioner Daines will visit counties across the state during National Public Health Week, April 5-9, to highlight local public health activities such as H1N1 influenza vaccination and obesity prevention.

"Local public health agencies are the first line of defense in protecting communities, working to prevent outbreaks of disease and responding quickly when health threats arise," Commissioner Daines said. "Local public health agencies are doing outstanding work in communities across the state to investigate and halt disease outbreaks, provide vaccinations, protect drinking water supplies, and conduct many other activities that protect and improve the health of New Yorkers."

Commissioner Daines praised the efforts that have made the Capital District Community Gardens a success. With the help of local high school students, the Community Gardens provide area residents with access to fresh fruits and vegetables, while teaching young people the value of healthy eating.

In 2008 New York State launched the "Prevention Agenda Toward the Healthiest State," which identified 10 priorities for improving local health: access to quality care; chronic disease prevention; community preparedness; a healthy environment; healthy mothers, babies and children; infectious disease prevention; mental health promotion/substance abuse prevention; prevention of unintentional injuries; and promotion of physical activity and nutrition.

While each county is focusing on specific local public health priorities, Dr. Daines said obesity is a statewide problem.

"With 60 percent of adults and one-third of children in New York overweight or obese, we are facing a major public health crisis," Dr. Daines said. "Good nutrition and exercise are important to reversing the obesity epidemic. These activities go hand-in-hand with the State's effort to reduce obesity by enacting a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other beverages containing large amounts of added sugar, which research has linked to increased rates of obesity and diabetes."

New York spends nearly $8 billion a year on health care for obesity-related illnesses, of which approximately 80 percent is paid by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid.

In addition to reducing obesity and lowering health care costs, the tax would generate $450 million for health care services in the 2010-11 fiscal year and $1 billion on an annual basis, preventing further cuts to health care needed to help close a $9 billion state deficit.

"By providing a financial signal to consumers to switch to lower-cost, healthier beverages like water, low-fat milk and diet soda, the tax on sugary beverages will be an important component of a comprehensive strategy to stop and reverse the obesity epidemic," Dr. Daines said.

During his visit in Rensselaer County, Dr. Daines also presented an H1N1 Response Recognition Award to Rensselaer County Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas, noting that efforts by Rensselaer County and county health departments across the state to educate and vaccinate residents were instrumental in preventing the outbreak from being worse than it was. Each local health department will receive an award in recognition of their H1N1 flu response efforts.

Prior to the kick-off ceremony at the Community Gardens, Dr. Daines participated in a Drinking Water Taste Contest at the Ned Pattison Government Center in Troy. The locality with the best tasting drinking water at the county contest will qualify to advance in the competition for the title of best tasting drinking water, which culminates at the New York State Drinking Water Taste Test to be held at the State Fair in August.

At mid-day Dr. Daines visited Greene County, where he participated in a healthy menu options initiative offered by MOD Café in Catskill, presented an H1N1 Response Recognition Award to Greene County Public health Director Marie Ostoyich, and toured the county Emergency Operations Center in Cairo.

He concluded the first day of his Public Health Week tour at Cobleskill Regional Hospital in Schoharie County, where he presented an H1N1 Response Recognition Award to Schoharie County Public Health Director Kathleen Stack and learned about local public health prevention activities.

For the complete itinerary of Dr. Daines' visits during National Public Health Week, visit: