In April, Baltimore became the 10th city to pass legislation that creates healthier beverage options for kids’ meal offerings after strong advocacy and leadership from the Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a grantee of Voices for Healthy Kids. The “Baltimore City Healthy Kids’ Meal Bill” ensures restaurants make the default beverage to water, 100 percent juice or milk for all children’s meals.
In recent decades, studies have found that consumption of soda and other sugary drinks can put children at risk of developing chronic diseases. The more sugary drinks children consume, the more likely it is that they will develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes. On average, children today consume roughly 25 percent of their calories from eating out, and about 42 percent of children between the ages of two and nine eat fast food on any given day.  That’s why restaurants are an important setting to encourage menu choices that are healthy for our kids.
In Baltimore City, one out of every four children consumes at least one sugary drink a day. But the American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than one eight-ounce sugary drink a week. The “Healthy Kids’ Meal Bill” aims to reduce the health risks associated with consumption of sugary drinks, risks that have become a major concern of the greater Baltimore community. In her testimony before the City Council in support of the bill, local Baltimore mother and grandmother Tracy Newsome stated, “I have seen the ravages of chronic disease on my neighborhood. Kids are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This can be avoided if we help children choose healthy beverages.”
Pastor Kevin A. Slayton Sr. of the New Waverly United Methodist Church in Baltimore also witnesses the severity of this issue within his own congregation. “Many members have fought weight issues their entire lives. These problems stem from habits developed as children,” he wrote in an op-ed. “Now we are learning lessons from these congregants that will help our younger members avoid poor health and live longer, healthier lives.”
Despite the law changing business practices, the legislation received support from several restaurants early on, even before it was introduced. “We just never thought to put it out there as an option. If they want it, they can ask to have it,” said Lori Gjerde of the restaurant Wicked Sisters. As people turn to restaurants to feed their families more often, it’s imperative that owners realize and embrace the responsibility they have to provide our children with healthy options.
The law in Baltimore, along with the other nine cities that have passed similar legislation, reflects a growing understanding – among restaurant owners, community members and policymakers alike – of the importance in feeding children nutritious meals. To paraphrase the words of Baltimore mother Robi Rawl – every family should have the privilege of healthy options when they go out to eat and advocates across the nation agree.
The enactment of the law in Baltimore marks the 10th success in an important movement that is sweeping the nation. Baltimore is the first city on the East Coast to pass this type of legislation. Recently, California became the first state to pass the law. Leading up to statewide passage, Santa Clara County, Davis, Stockton, Perris, Berkeley, Cathedral City, Long Beach, and Daly City pioneered it. Additionally, Lafayette, Colorado has adopted the legislation. Similar statewide bills were filed in California, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Hawaii this year. The City of Louisville, Kentucky is also working to pass a bill that would provide nutritious kids’ meal default options.
When the “‘Healthy-by-Default’ Kids’ Beverage Ordinance” passed in Stockton back in 2016, Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi explained the predicament that this type of legislation solves: “Instead of getting an unwanted soda without asking for one, parents will be given the opportunity to start the meal off right with a healthy beverage.” Vice Mayor of Long Beach Rex Richardson reinforced Fugazi’s sentiment when his city’s ordinance passed in October 2017: “The goal is to help kids see these healthy options as the norm, not the exception.”
In addition to the exciting progress that is being made in local communities, six large national restaurant chains have decided to remove sugary drinks from their kids’ menu displays making restaurant meals for children healthier across the country
To learn more about this issue and how you can help mobilize a similar effort in your community, visit our Kids’ Meals toolkit – it includes resources to help you talk to restaurant owners, community leaders, and decision-makers in your town to make sure we take the right steps to serve kids better.™