Kids’ Meal Beverage Choice Ordinance – Part I – Regulatory Options

soda-machineBy Leanna Sweha

On May 5, the City Council will consider an ordinance to require Davis food service establishments to offer milk or water as the default beverage in children’s meals. The ordinance is being proposed as a way to address high rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, as well as other negative impacts of from sugary drinks.

Part one of this article looks at other government efforts to regulate such beverages. Part two will examine what researchers at UC Davis are learning about the health effects of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages.

State Warning Label Bill

SB 203 would require distributors and vendors of sugar-sweetened beverages to carry the following warning label:

“STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

The bill defines “sugar-sweetened beverage” as “any sweetened nonalcoholic beverage, carbonated or noncarbonated, intended for human consumption, that has added caloric sweeteners and contains 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces.”

The types of drinks subject to the label would include sodas, sweet teas, sports drinks and energy drinks. 100% pure fruit and vegetable juices were specifically excluded, although beverages sweetened with fruit juice concentrates were not. Also excluded were beverages consisting of a minimum 50% by weight milk or milk substitute.

Vending and other dispensing machines would have to post warnings on their exteriors.

SB 203 failed passage in the Senate Health Committee on April 29 but may be reconsidered. The lead author, Senator Bill Monning (Carmel), introduced a similar bill last year that died in the Assembly. Monning was not surprised at the vote. “It’s a tribute to the power of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry,” he said.

The bill’s major co-sponsor was the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), with headquarters in Davis. To raise awareness about the issue and SB 203, CCPHA developed and placed a series of ads featuring local residents in eight different newspapers throughout California.

Bob Achermann, executive director of CalBev, which represents the non-alcoholic beverage industry in California, wrote in February that SB 203 was bad public policy. “Addressing obesity and diabetes is more complicated than a warning label, and it’s misleading to suggest legislation impacting some beverages will offer a simple solution to complex health issues.”

Achermann also noted the beverage industry’s voluntary efforts. In 2010, the industry launched “Clear on Calories,” an initiative to make sure every can, bottle and pack carries clear and distinct calorie labels. In 2014, the industry started “Balance Calories,” in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, to reduce per capita beverage calories by 20 percent by 2025 through increased availability and marketing of smaller portion sizes and no- and lower-calorie options.

CCPHA executive director Dr. Harold Goldstein commented on the bill, “Parents may know that drinking soda is not as healthy as eating broccoli, but they don’t know that sugary drinks, like sports drinks and sweetened teas, may be making their children sick. It’s time to post warnings on the front of the bottle.”

There is recent scientific evidence that Goldstein may have a point. Public health researchers at Yale University and Boston Children’s Hospital recently reported on a survey showing that parents have misperceptions about the healthfulness of sugar-sweetened drinks.

The survey of 982 parents of 2- to 17-year-olds revealed that 96% had provided from 2-9 different categories of sugary drinks to their children in the past month. Many parents believed that some sugary drinks are healthy options for children, particularly flavored waters, fruit drinks and sports drinks. Many also indicated that they rely on package health claims in their purchase decisions.

City of Berkeley Excise Tax

The City of Berkeley is the first city in the nation to impose an excise tax on sugary beverages. Measure D, which passed last November with 75% of the vote, imposes an excise tax of $0.01 per ounce on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages and the sweeteners used to sweeten them. This comes out to about a 12 cent tax on a standard 12 ounce can of soda. The tax is payable by the distributor, not the consumer.

The tax on added-calorie sweeteners is calculated based on the number of ounces of sweetened beverage that would typically be produced using that sweetener. This includes delivery of syrup to fast food or other restaurants; delivery of syrup to stores that sell fountain drinks; and delivery of drinks with added caloric sweeteners to retail outlets and restaurants.

The ordinance took effect on January 1, 2015, although the first tax remittances were just made in March of this year.

The revenue generated by the tax goes to the city’s general fund. The ordinance also established a panel of experts to advise the Berkeley City Council on how and to what extent the City should establish and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and to address the effects of such consumption.

Mexican Consumption Tax

In October 2014, the Mexican Legislature passed a peso-per-liter tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. The goal is to reduce the obesity rate in Mexico, which, according to the United Nations, is the highest of all countries with a population exceeding 100 million.

The tax, proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, was part of a fiscal reform package. The proceeds are intended to be earmarked for drinking water in schools. Some communities have none, while in others it is not potable and bottled soft drinks are safer.  An internet search did not turn up any information on whether funds have been designated for this purpose.

According to a survey released by public health advocates in October of 2014, a majority of Mexicans said they had reduced their consumption of sugary drinks and were relating soda to health problems.

In March, the Mexican Supreme Court held that the tax was constitutional.

Leanna M Sweha, JD, has been a resident of Davis for 20 years.  As a young molecular biologist in a USDA lab working to engineer Roundup-resistant corn, she grew interested in sustainable agriculture.  Fascinated with the legal and policy issues of agricultural genetics, she became an attorney specializing in agricultural and natural resources law.  She has worked for the California Resources Agency and the UC Davis Office of Research.

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  1. Barack Palin

     The tax is payable by the distributor, not the consumer.

    Yes, because we all know the distributor never passes down those costs to the consumer.

  2. Tia Will

    because we all know the distributor never passes down those costs to the consumer.”

    This is a matter of individual choice since there is no law forcing the distributor to do so.

    And this is a case in which whomever picks up the additional cost, the win will be for the consumer who would benefit from the decreased use of these non healthful drinks in terms of improved health if the increased cost did indeed cut down on their usage. This is one of the rare cases in which disproportionate effect on the lower income individual would actually be to their advantage.

  3. Barack Palin

    “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

    No kidding.

  4. Davis Progressive

    one thing i have noticed, when restaurants put calories on their menus, i am less likely to eat the 1000 calorie meals and more likely to find something more healthy.  it’s subtle but effective.

    1. hpierce

      Now, the calorie info, with sufficient font size, will probably do a lot more than the ‘diabetes warning’…particularly for young women.

        1. hpierce

          I “sorta understand”.  I’m basically same size/weight as I was ~ 40 years ago.  Still have a pair of pants from HS that still fit fine (but they’re ‘flares’, so don’t wear those except  as a 70’s costume).  Never cared much for the ‘colas’, and would occasionally have a root beer or a 7-up.  I can enjoy a half package of cookies in one sitting, and have no interest in sweets for 3 months. It’s not a fear of weight/size  or diabetes thing.  Think I’m just “hard-wired” that way.  Most of my peers are not.

      1. Tia Will


        Now, the calorie info, with sufficient font size, will probably do a lot more than the ‘diabetes warning’…particularly for young women.”

        I think that your comment is a good illustration of the need for a multifactorial approach. While it is true that a caloric guide may have more impact on those who are most concerned with their physical appearance others may have different concerns.

        The diabetes warning may resonate for reproductive age women planning a pregnancy and for those who have a family history of diabetes but have not made the connection between “healthy fruit flavored water” or “sports drinks” and this condition.

        The warning about tooth decay may kick in for those who have children in their sports team years which also tend to coincide with the pre braces and braces set.

        The better a direct connection resonates with the individual at which ever concern is most important to them, the more likely that they will cut back on their use of these detrimental beverages.

  5. Miwok

    I think it might be useful for the author, having helped developed GMO Corn, to expound on the use of high fructose corn syrup as a sugar in many products and drinks?

  6. DavisBurns

    There should be an option, at reduced cost, for cold tap water. Fruit juice has as many calories as soda and milk especially low fat milk isn’t a good choice either.  Water, let them drink water and not out of a plastic bottle.

  7. Tia Will


    I agree that water should be the default beverage for the reasons you have stated. However, I cannot see why one should be paying for tap water when it has previously been provided without charge.

  8. DavisBurns

    I said “at reduced cost”. If the meal cost $2.99 and included a beverage, then the price should be reduced because the water should be free.

    1. hpierce

      DB:    Clarification understood, and I agree… think I might have been keying off Tia’s followup.  Just thinking there is a ‘cost’ to supplying water, whether in a restaurant where the container has to be cleaned, or a disposable cup @ a fast-food.

      Come to think of it, Round Table used to have a beverage included in the ‘lunch deal’, now the drink is an “add-on”… I always get the unsweetened iced tea.

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