Davis Becomes First City to Make Non-Sugary Drinks Default Children’s Beverage

Supervisor Jim Provenza chairs the First 5 Five Commission.  On Tuesday he spoke before City Council praising efforts to change the default as a low cost way of improving children's health
Supervisor Jim Provenza chairs the First 5 Commission. On Tuesday he spoke before city council praising efforts to change the default as a low cost way of improving children’s health

The Davis City Council unanimously and with enthusiasm passed an ordinance making the city the first in the nation to make non-sugary drinks the default for children’s meals at restaurants. Councilmembers, as well as members of the community, emphasized the epidemic of childhood obesity and incidents of childhood onset of diabetes as informing the need to make this change.

Staff noted the lack of controversy on this issue as they received only three responses to a survey, two of which were positive. Councilmember Rochelle Swanson attributed that to the outreach work by staff “to really make sure that there has been dialogue on this issue.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis stated, “To me the ubiquity of sugar in our diets goes way beyond beverages [and] is just a testimony to a failed food system.” He liken it to a comment on the oil trains, “A lot of times there’s not a lot we can do locally against an onslaught in this case, official government policy in the form of the farm bill to support the overproduction of corn which leads to more sugar.”

He continued, “There’s not much we can do as a city against the onslaught of an industry that knows how to push our genetic buttons the way we evolved on the savannah to like that thing that’s sweet and we could get it in small quantities, now we can get it in big. There’s not much we can do – and I think this is something we can do to raise our hand and say that we value the health of our community.”

The health of our children is the responsibility of the community, he said. “I do not see it as a civil liberties issue at all – we all pay the cost of these things. The default in our society is that every decision that limits in some way a person’s default behavior, which this doesn’t do, is an attack on our basic civil liberties. I reject that notion. We have public health priorities that we must meet.”

A number of county and representatives from First 5 Yolo came forward to speak during public comment.

County Supervisor Jim Provenza, who chairs the First 5 Commission, spoke before the council during public comment. He said that First 5 Yolo is going to spend $2 million this year helping children 0 to 5 deal with the consequences of poverty. He said, “This ordinance is one where we can accomplish a lot without costing any money – just a very simple preference, a default option for non-sugary drinks.”

He called it a “no-brainer,” stating, “The idea that a three-year-old goes into a meal at a restaurant and the default option is a substance that will harm her is just outrageous.” The only thing this ordinance does is it sets the default to milk or water.

He called it “an education for parents and an education for children without really telling anyone what to do.” “The benefits of that will extend throughout their lifetimes,” he added.

Denita Stromgren, a First 5 Commissioner, spoke as well. She asked rhetorically, “Is there really a problem here?” She answered her own question, “The research has shown us that in fact there is a problem that the incidence of overweight and obesity in young children has in fact tripled in the last two decades – a lot of that is attributed to the increase in sugar beverages.”

Drinking soda and sugary juice “increases the child’s chance of being overweight by over 60 percent. These are really high numbers and very concerning.” She also cited the increase in dental caries, which she cited at between 80 and 100 percent.

She said, “Clearly, the research suggests that something different should be done.”

Ms. Stromgren then addressed whether it should be the role of the city council to mitigate the impacts related to these problems. “For close to 20 years I supervised the city’s child care services office, and in that role we performed a tremendous amount of information and sharing with parents on parenting issues – and they were very appreciative of the role we could play both in terms of providing them with the information and the support so they could be better parents.”

“I think this is really just another tool that helps parents to be better parents,” she said. “It gives them those options that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

She then addressed whether this will actually change behavior – will parents choose the healthier option if offered it as a default? She said when she was a teenager, her father insisted that they have water rather than any other beverage and that stuck with her for many years. “I think that the kinds of things that we do with our families have long term impacts on the habits that children form throughout the years.”

Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, based in Davis, said the center led the campaign to get soda and junk food out of the schools in California.

“I want to applaud this council for considering this ordinance,” Dr. Goldstein stated. “We are in the midst of a skyrocketing diabetes epidemic. Diabetes rates in the United States have quintupled five-fold in the last fifty years.”

One-quarter of teenagers have either diabetes or pre-diabetes, the doctor told the council. One-third of all kids and half of kids of color will have diabetes at some time in their lives.

“It is true there are a lot of contributing factors to both the childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic,” he said. “But without question, sugary beverages are the leading contributor. One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar. Imagine eating 16 teaspoons of sugar.”

These beverages “deliver their sugar in liquid form. These beverages are nothing other than a sugar delivery device. Because it’s delivered in liquid form, it’s absorbed into the body in as little as 30 minutes. That sugar then, over time, overwhelms the pancreas, wears out the pancreas and is converted in the liver into fat. Now we have kids who have fatty liver disease as if they’re alcoholics. They’re not drinking alcohol, they’re drinking sugar and the sugar gets converted into fat in the liver.”

He said, “There is no reason that kids should be given a sugary beverage when they go to a restaurant – without their parents asking for it.”

He called this policy as libertarian as it gets – “parents still get to have a complete choice. But the default will be the healthy choice.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    My personal thanks to the City Council members and staff for their time and attention to a major health problem facing our community. This is not about being first in the nation on a trivial issue. It is about true leadership in recognizing a major health threat ( obesity with its attendant risks of diabetes, liver disease, pregnancy complications, heart disease, renal failure, orthopedic problems) with much greater and more far reaching impacts on our society than the threat of Ebola, with its attendant panicked response costing millions of dollars ever had. This is a very small, non punitive, non costly first step towards promoting a healthier society by focusing on those most likely to benefit for the remainder of their lives, todays children, with the possibility of passing on healthier behaviors for both them and future generations.

    Strong work all.

    1. Frankly

      Ebola vs. sugary drinks?   Give me a break.  Personal choice that may or may not lead to health problems vs. a usually fatal virus that we cannot control as individuals?

      When are top-down rules to be forced to live by justified.? In the liberal mind, there is no end.   There is a never-ending list of tragic circumstances cuased to individuals by their own crappy choices.

      1. Davis Progressive

        lets think about that ebola comparison.  29 million people have diabetes.  another 86 million americans have prediabetes.  according to the cdc “Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15 percent to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years. ”

        people end up dying from diabetes and they are at risk for things like “vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputation of toes, feet or legs, and premature death. ”

        research shows a strong link between sugary drinks and diabetes especially for youths.

        based on that the comparison is not so ludicrous.  i get it the fast death of ebola is more frightening, but the reality of diaetes should be more frightening than it appears to be you.

      2. Tia Will

        When are top-down rules to be forced to live by justified.”

        Talk about hyperbole ! Give me a break. This does not force anyone to make any particular choice. A fact well known to all who have post and read here and who didn’t stop thinking the minute the proposal came up.

  2. SODA

    Agree, but I was a little confused from listening last night.  There was little input from the survey and virtually no response from restaurants….yet someone mentioned most already have changed to the default; is that right?

  3. Barack Palin

    Glad we finally took care of that.   The people of Davis can feel so much better now as they drive home hitting potholes from McDonald’s with their kid’s meal and milk.

    1. Davis Progressive

      you’re right – potholes really outranks childhood obesity and diabetes.  moreover, dealing with this had nothing to do with the city’s ability to deal with potholes either from a budgetary standpoint or from a staff standpoint.  danielle foster is not the person involved in paving the roads.

  4. Davis Progressive

    i think the essential point here is the combination of robb davis’ comments – “this is what we can do” with the doctor’s comments “this is what we are up against” – none of the opponents could really respond to those key points.

    1. Barack Palin

      No, the key point is the City needs to stick to the big issues, like roads and budget, and quit playing big brother with feel good ordinances that do nothing.

      1. Tia Will


        feel good ordinances that do nothing.”

        You may not be old enough to remember this, but this argument was essentially used against those who wanted to ban indoor smoking and prohibit the marketing of cigarettes to children. Those who wanted to “feel good” about potentially saving many lives won out and I would hardly count the prevention of many cancer related deaths as “doing nothing”.

        I do not expect those who do not work in the medical field to understand how very important this issue is, but I am going to try anyway.  At age 18 women transfer from the care of their pediatrician to my care as an Ob/Gyn and to the care of an internist for their non gynecology related needs. As recently as three years ago, I had never seen a case of Type II diabetes or a case of fatty liver in a teenager in my clinic. About two years ago, my first fatty liver patient came in. For those of you who do not know, this is a marker of significant obesity related liver disease and can be thought of us the liver damage that one might see with a long term alcoholic. I thought this was a single aberration in a single patient. I was wrong. Since then, a number of patients have come into my clinic who are under 25 and have Type II diabetes and related liver disease. If these young women continue along the same trajectory, we will be looking at huge numbers of pregnancies with complications including premature births, with their thousands of dollars per day intensive care unit stays, increased numbers of Cesarean deliveries with their attendant increased surgical risks, increased problems with high blood pressure during and after pregnancy, increased clotting disorders, increased numbers of large for gestational age infants who will be themselves at risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders. It is not hard to understand that this is going to hugely impact our health care expenditures in the future. If you do not think that it will impact you, you do not understand the nature of emergency care the cost of which falls on those of us who have health care insurance ourselves as well as those who merely contribute through their taxes.

        If this were not bad enough girls and young women who are obese tend to continue to be obese through middle age and into their post menopausal years and carry with them an increased risk of both breast and uterine cancer. These diseases seriously affect women and their families both socially and economically. We will pay the emotional, social and economic costs of these completely preventable illnesses not only as individuals but also as a society in terms of decreased productivity, more time off work, more family instability, more families reliant on social welfare as their wage earners are incapacitated. This I have seen many times. This I know to be true.

        And it is all preventable through simple steps that do not prevent anyone from exercising their ability to choose. I could not agree more with DP in the statement that I can hardly think of a bigger issue than childhood diabetes with its devastating effects on todays children, and potentially adversely affecting generations with in a family.

        What is amazing to me is that those who do not want to be told by the government “what they must do” have no difficulty giving up their right to choose to a soft drink manufacturer who essentially along with the providing establishment is saying “either accept that nutritionally bereft, sugar laden beverage that we have chosen for your child, or pay more for something healthier ! Please explain to me how letting a soda manufacturer choose your child’s beverage for you in any protects your freedoms ?

  5. Alan Miller

    I changed my mind on this one after listing to Dr. Goldstein.  He was very measured and convincing.  I am not in favor of childhood diabetes, I simply do not like to see local government get sidetracked in such measures.  However, I like to take each measure on its own, and this appears to be a relatively innocuous measure that is not a great burden on business, and may provide some educational value by existing.  The real value, of course, is in what beverages parents bring home.  Since choice continues to exist, and no one is forcing anyone to put anything in their bodies, I can live with this one.

  6. tribeUSA

    Seems like a good idea to change this default option to something healthier–customers still have the option to order the sugary stuff, right? Guess I’m not entirely sure as to what is meant by the ‘default option’, wish the article would have made that more clear.  I often workout at UC Davis (gym and rec pool); and when talking about workouts & nutrition with UCD students; I make it a point to advise them to stay away from sugary drinks such as ‘energy’ drinks which are extremely high in sugar, and to check their protein/power drinks to be sure there is more protein than sugars in the brands they buy (many so called ‘protein’ drinks and ‘protein’ bars have higher sugars content than proteins/amino acids content).

  7. Tia Will


    The “default option” refers to a prepackaged meal that automatically comes with certain ingredients such as a hamburger, french fries and a soda served whether or not the parent would want their child to have a soda. The change in the “default” is that the same meal will now be served with water or milk unless the parent specifically asks for a soda. The only change is that one must ask for the beverage of choice, not be given a soda because that is what the business, in conjunction with the soda companies have decided to serve the children.

    I have one more anecdote about “loss of choice”. This happened here in town at one of our theaters operating about 18 years ago. I had taken my son and daughter ( about 8 and 5 at the time) to a matinee. Just as the show was about to start, my daughter said she was thirsty. Rather than take my whole entourage back out to the lobby, I told them to stay and went out for water. This was in the pre ubiquitous bottle of water days. I asked the counter worker for a glass of water. She said she couldn’t give or sell me water. I then asked to buy a cup so that I could get water from the fountain. She said the manager wouldn’t allow that either since the number of cups had to match the number of sodas sold. No drinks allowed from the outside of course. By now livid, I bought the smallest drink possible, poured the soda down the fountain and took the cup full of water back to my daughter. So what we have is a company, in order to enhance their own product sales, limiting  the healthy choice that a parent is able to make for their child.

  8. tribeUSA

    Tia–thanks for clarifying the ‘default’ definition–I haven’t bought kids out for meals in years; however ocassionally at a fast-food place or restaurant I will buy the ‘kids size’ portion, which is usually plenty enough for me now that I’m in my 50s and have to be careful to keep my weight under control.

    Yes, I remember asking for water at movie theatres too, decades ago, and they generally didn’t have it as an option so often I smuggled in a small water bottle. Often they would offer a diet (sugarless) cola option; better than the sugary stuff but the acid is still bad for the teeth (pH of diet cola is between 3-3.5–I measured pH of several cola varieties in the lab years ago–acids generally include malic, phosphoric, carbonic, and citric; root beer is much less acidic, around pH 5).

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