Last fall, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk put forward his healthy children’s initiative, offering alternatives to sugary drinks at restaurants and making low-fat milk the default beverage. The effort, co-sponsored by First 5 Yolo, would authorize the city to reach out to local restaurants about proposed changes to their menus to address the issue of sugary beverages in kids’ meals.
Now the ordinance comes before the city council. Staff cites the childhood obesity epidemic, where in Davis, roughly one-quarter of all children in grades 5, 7 and 9 are overweight or obese. Moreover, a study found that in 2012, more than half of all Davis 5th, 7th, and 9th graders failed to meet the CA Fitness Standards.
Staff writes, “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.”
Council held a public hearing and was asked to enact the draft ordinance. According to the staff report, the item uses existing staff resources. If enacted, staff would utilize existing resources in the initial introduction and certification process of the program, which will redirect existing staff time.
Ongoing non-compliance by a restaurant would be subject to noticing and a citation process by code enforcement.
In April, Jackie Hausman told the Vanguard, “First 5 Yolo is currently working with the City of Davis to adopt an ordinance that would require restaurants that offer kids’ meals to include only milk or water as the default beverage. There are about 20 restaurants in Davis that have kids’ meals that include soda as one of the beverage options.”
This is not an initiative limited to Davis. Staff notes that many communities are enacting policies to increase access to healthy beverages for children. These efforts include “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. 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 milk as part of any kids’ meal unless a customer specifically requests an alternative beverage.”
The ordinance expresses concern that “families in the City of Davis often have limited time to obtain and prepare healthy food, making dining out an appealing and sometimes necessary option.”
Furthermore, a 2013 study found that only three percent of fast food restaurant chains met expert nutritional standards for children’s meals.
Another study has found “sugar-sweetened beverages alone make up to nine percent (9%) of the calories children consume daily.” Studies have linked sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity, which has been linked to health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, asthma, low self-esteem, and depression, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moreover, obesity-related health conditions come with serious economic costs. A 2006 study commissioned by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy found that the total annual health care costs attributed to overweight and obesity-related health conditions in Yolo County neared $58.3 million.
At their September 2014 meeting, the Davis Social Services Commission unanimously recommended that the city council support an initiative to require the default option for drinks that accompany children’s meals to be milk or water, allowing juice, soda, or other drinks to still be available upon request should the parent wish to have that option.
The Commission also included in its motion a recommendation that the City look for opportunities to provide increased health education to the community.
Interestingly enough, staff claims it did not receive any direct feedback on this issue. “No one emailed or called about the potential ordinance and no one attended the public meeting. Three responses were received on the public survey. Of the responses received, one was against the potential ordinance and the other two were in support.”
Staff writes, “The draft ordinance includes water and milk as the default beverages for children’s meals. While staff and First 5 Yolo discussed and considered juice as an option, the draft ordinance does not include this option because according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, their guidelines suggest that children one to six years old have no more than six fluid ounces of juice per day and children ages seven to eighteen have no more than eight to twelve fluid ounces of juice per day, ideally divided into two or more servings.”
“Given that most juice boxes are packaged at greater than six ounces per container, staff felt that including this option might be problematic for ordinance compliance,” they write, noting there is difficulty differentiating between 100 percent juice with no sugar added and other juices on the market loaded with sugar. “While there has not been as much research on the impact of juice on children, the critical aspect to consider is the amount of sugar being provided through this option.”
The ordinance reads: “On and after September 1, 2015 a restaurant that sells a children’s meal that includes a beverage shall make the default beverage offered with the children’s meal one of the following: (1) Water, sparkling water, or flavored water, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; (2) Milk or non-dairy milk alternatives.”
The ordinance continues, “Nothing in this Section prohibits a restaurant’s ability to sell, or a customer’s ability to purchase, a substitute or alternative beverage instead of the default beverage offered with a children’s meal, if requested by the purchaser of the children’s meal.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting