This week Davis became the first community, with a very modest proposal, to start taking a stand against sugary beverages for children. Those who argue that this doesn’t solve the problem of childhood obesity or diabetes are correct – it does not and it is not intended to.
Instead, it is a very low cost, low level change that does one very simple thing – it changes the default status of drinks on the children’s menu at restaurants to make healthier choices the default. If a parent wants to order their child a soda, this does nothing to stop them. But at least it makes them specifically request it.
The reaction by the local paper’s editor was very disappointing and demonstrated that the paper’s editor, Debbie Davis, does not understand the ordinance and did not take time to talk to anyone about its implications.
She wrote in the Friday column: “JEERS to the city’s new soda rules, mandating water or milk as the ‘default’ option on kids’ meals. We’re sure the City Council means well, but this is the sort of pointless micromanaging that gives the nanny state a bad name. And what restaurant has a ‘default’ drink? Don’t they usually ask the customer first? And if you’re so afraid to say ‘no soda’ to your kid that you need local government to step in, you have bigger problems.”
What do you mean what restaurant has a default beverage? The city identified 20 restaurants that have on their kids’ meal a default beverage of soda. Interestingly enough, if you go to McDonald’s and order a Happy Meal, you have to request soda, but soda is not one of the listed items on a Happy Meal. Has it really been that long since your kids were little that you didn’t realize that? That’s just sloppy.
Happy Meal’s default beverage is apple juice, orange juice or chocolate milk. You can ask for a soda and they’ll give you one, but it’s not the default.
But the more offensive comment is, “And if you’re so afraid to say ‘no soda’ to your kid that you need local government to step in, you have bigger problems.” This assumes that the only people who are ordering these things are well-educated on nutrition. Part of the problem that this attempts to address is that for many low-income children, their parents are not educated on nutrition. For many low-income families, fast food is a staple.
And the statistics are frankly alarming. The number of children in this community who are overweight and facing diabetes and pre-diabetes should cause us all shame. But, of course, the Davis Enterprise is not interested in discussing all of that.
Bob Dunning, who has a large family with many young children, should be leading the way on this issue. Instead, he writes, “Again, it’s not a ban … instead, it’s a simple publicity stunt to land Davis on the front page of newspapers near and far … in that regard, mission accomplished … we are, as it turns out, the first city in the nation to pass a soda pop ordinance that bans absolutely nothing … as the kids like to say, all bark and no bite …”
I juxtapose these uninformed comments against those by Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, based in Davis.
“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, as “parents still get to have a complete choice. But the default will be the healthy choice.”
That’s really the key point here – no one is having their right to give their children sugar infringed upon, but we need to start sending the message that sugar kills. It’s slow but, as someone who suffers from diabetes, the reality is painful.
Frankly, I consider myself fairly educated on nutrition, especially in the last seven years of suffering from diabetes, but the idea that a 20 oz. soda, which is a standard size sold in plastic bottles, has 16 teaspoons of sugar is mindboggling. We expect parents to make good choices – but how can they when we are not given the full facts at our easy disposal?
One of our readers I think hit the opposition’s nail on the head: “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.”
So fixing potholes is now somehow more important than combating a health epidemic? Moreover, the cost of this ordinance is negligible. The opportunity cost is nil. It is not that we cannot fix our roads – because we had staffers who will never touch the roads spend a half hour on Tuesday night discussing another important issue.
Amazingly enough, during the same meeting that social services staff were discussing health beverages, public works director Bob Clarke was laying out his plan for spending $15 million on roads construction starting this summer.
So all that opponents of this ordinance are left with is the notion that this will not solve the problem. I agree. But why not implement a no-cost ordinance that at least can address the low-hanging fruit?
As Dr. Goldstein put it, there are many contributing factors to childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic but, “sugary beverages are the leading contributor.” So why not at least get us to think about it before we purchase that next soda and, for low-income kids, maybe this can start the education process.
If that’s not enough, then by all means let’s do more. But at least that conversation is started now. And the roads will amazingly still get fixed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting