On Tuesday night there was a brief discussion on the Council Goals. Most of these are frankly no-brainers and, of course, a bit vague, but one that generated some discussion was ensuring a safe and healthy community.
Some of the community members were concerned with provisions that seemed to back door fluoridation back into the community discussion. The provision read, “Distribute children’s dental information, including an emphasis on fluoride.” “Partner with community organizations including CommuniCare, First Five, and other community groups who work with children to supply children’s dental health information including an emphasis on fluoride.”
Some took this as an end run around the decision in 2013 not to fluoridate the water – council would quickly put an end to that.
For me, the more substantial portion of that is a provision that would require restaurants to make milk and water the default beverage with kids’ meals.
There was a public commenter on Tuesday who noted that, while it’s important to have healthy children, “it’s also very important for us to have liberty.” She went on to note, “If there was no other way for us to have healthy children, then of course I would be behind it, but the children have caretakers or families, they learn about health in school and they probably have doctors, so all of those people can tell them about what they should or shouldn’t drink.”
She added that she wanted those people in those venues to increase awareness about the importance of healthy eating and avoiding “sodas rather than imposing it on the local restaurateurs as you seem to want to do.”
I understand the point that the individual made here, and in an ideal world I would be beating the drum on liberty too. But this isn’t an ideal world and there are many kids whose caretakers are either not educated themselves on healthy eating or otherwise disengaged from the issue.
We live in an affluent community and yet, as we have noted before, nearly one in every four kids are Title I, meaning that they are low income.
Many of these children either do not have access to doctors and dentists and or do so through MediCal and do not have regular pediatricians monitoring their sugar intake.
In a city staff report from last fall, they write that California and the nation are experiencing a childhood obesity epidemic. “In Davis, one-quarter of all children in grades 5, 7 and 9 are overweight or obese. In 2012, more than half of all Davis 5th, 7th, and 9th graders failed to meet the CA Fitness Standards,” staff reports.
Staff notes, “Sugary beverages play a central and unique role in the obesity epidemic. Studies have found a significant link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain in children. Soda and sugary beverages are the single largest source of calories in children’s diets, and provide nearly half of kids’ added sugar intake.
“Cities are enacting policies to increase access to healthy beverages for children, such as adopting standards for beverages provided in parks, recreational facilities, and city-sponsored programs,” staff writes. “Restaurants serve as another important venue within cities where changing local policies on healthy beverages could contribute to the fight against childhood obesity.”
Staff continues, “Cities can promote good health for their youngest residents and support parents in purchasing healthy beverages for their children by adopting a policy that requires restaurants to offer water or low-fat milk as part of any kids’ meal unless a customer specifically requests an alternative beverage. First 5 Yolo has been working to explore whether the City of Davis could adopt such a policy.”
As we noted last fall and staff noted above, the First 5 reports that “sugary drinks play a central and unique role in the obesity epidemic.” They found that “soda and sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in children’s diets and provide nearly half of kids’ sugar intake.”
Forty-one percent of children aged two to 11, and 62 percent of those aged 12 to 17 drink at least one soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage every day.
The risk of obesity increases by 60 percent with each additional daily serving of soda, which contains 16 teaspoons of sugar for each 20-ounce serving, making sweetened beverages the largest single source of added sugar in American diet.
Bodies absorb sugar far faster when we consume them in liquids as compared to solids, raising blood sugar levels in just 30 minutes.
It may be that some restaurants are, in fact, already making a change. At one fast food place, I noticed that their kids meal, in addition to hamburger or chicken and fries, offers apples, orange or yogurt as well as drinks consisting of milk, apple juice and orange juice as defaults rather than soda. You have to ask for soda.
It would be helpful if they offered low sugar apple and orange juice, as those juices can contain almost as much sugar as the soda, but at least it appears a step in the right direction.
The bottom line, however, is that when parents for a variety of reasons are not able to help their kids make healthy choices, we as a community should be able to step in and help fill the void. Whether you believe parents should do more or not, the childhood obesity epidemic suggests that they are not.
This sugary drink requirement only tells restaurants what their kids meals should offer as the “default” option, it does not dictate to anyone what the kids can or cannot have.
—David M. Greenwald reporting