Last week, Council Member Ben Kallos introduced a bill in the New York City Council that would make healthier beverages the default option for kids’ meals in New York City restaurants. New York City has long been the national leader when it comes to protecting public health in restaurants, from posting restaurant grades to eliminating trans-fat and displaying calorie information and sodium warnings on menus. So why are we still pushing soda and other sugary drinks on kids? Eleven jurisdictions across the country—including Baltimore, Maryland and Louisville, Kentucky—have already passed policies to promote healthier drinks like water, milk, and 100 percent juice in restaurant kids’ meals. It’s time for New York City to do the same.
Across the US, one in three children and adolescents are overweight or obese. In New York City, more than 250,000 elementary school kids are at an unhealthy weight. That’s about the population of Orlando, Florida.
It’s no coincidence that one out of every four high school students drink at least one soda per day. Sodas have empty calories that have no nutritional benefit. And still, sugary drinks like soda, fruit punch, sports drinks, energy drinks and sweetened teas, are a top source of calories in the American diet.
Americans now spend more of their food budget on foods prepared away from home. Today, about 42 percent of children eat fast food on a given day. Children consume roughly 25 percent of their calories from eating out.
In recent months, municipalities around the country have taken measures to remove sugary drinks from the kids’ menu in restaurants. Earlier this year, the Baltimore City Council passed such a law by a unanimous vote. In July, Baltimore became the largest American city to implement that law. New York should follow suit and support parents’ efforts to feed their children healthfully.
Many national restaurant chains have already dropped soda as the go-to drink on kids’ menus, making water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent juice the drink options for kids’ meals. While we applaud the restaurants that have made the change voluntarily, three-quarters of the top chains haven’t made this change yet, and many smaller restaurants still offer sugary drinks to kids. Council Member Kallos’ bill would ensure all New York families have healthy options, no matter where they eat.
Sugary drink consumption among the youngest New Yorkers (age birth to 5 years) was measured for the first time in 2015. The findings suggest that Latino and black children consume sugary drinks at three to four times higher rates than white children. This is clearly a racial justice issue.
Like tobacco and alcohol, unfair marketing practices for sugary drinks further accelerate the development of poor health outcomes among communities facing the greatest health disparities. We cannot continue to silently stand by as this injustice continues to negatively impact our children.
The proposed legislation still allows parents to request a sugary drink for their kids, without undermining them with heavy-handed marketing. Personal responsibility plays a key role in health, but the choices we make depend upon the options we have available to us. Parents want to do the best for their children, and making healthier beverages the default option empowers parents to do just that.
The New York City Council has an opportunity to play an important role in ensuring that all children in our city have a healthy start to life. By making healthy options easier for families to choose in restaurants, kids will be more likely to choose better drinks like milk and water.
When we create a community that supports healthy eating, we can help all New York children grow up at a healthy weight. It will not only help our children become healthier now, but also help them develop habits that reinforce a lifetime of good health.
Our children deserve healthy drink options on restaurant menus across New York.
This statement was created in cooperation with:
American Heart Association
Center for Science in the Public Interest
American Cancer Society
NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, Chapters 2 & 3
Tried and True Nutrition
New York Common Pantry