Senate Bill 1192 has passed the California Assembly, meaning that children in the Golden State are soon likely to have healthy options like milk or water mandated as their default beverage option in restaurants and fast food chains. The bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for signing.
Sugar tax woes
In June the beverage industry lobbied for California to pass a blanket, 12-year ban on all soda taxes in the state to keep soft drinks affordable. It was proposed as a compromise to a separate tax ballot measure, which would have instead raised the threshold of support needed for tax increases.
Local California physicians, dentists and public health advocates widely decried the move, and even filed a counter ballot measure that would allow Californians to vote on a tax for sugar-sweetened drinks at the midterm elections in November.
Research has linked sugary drinks to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay for years, which particularly affects children. Taxing sugary beverages has been a popular strategy for combating these health problems in recent years.
After Berkeley, Calif. became the first US city to tax sugary drinks in 2014, other cities in California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado and Washington have passed, proposed and overturned similar laws.
Milk or water?
Another strategy for fighting back against sugar comes in the form of healthy kids’ meal bill. Default sodas and juices are common in kids’ meals at food chains and restaurants, contributing to health problems in children.
Several big name fast food brands have already committed to changing their default beverage choices in kids’ meals since 2013. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Applebee’s and Jack in the Box all offer at least milk or water to children.
Though many chains and independent restaurants have yet to follow their example, in California, they will no longer have a choice. However, the bill is sure to clarify that soft drinks can still be requested in place of the healthy options. They must only be removed as the default options.
The bill’s language states that restaurants selling kids’ meals would be required to “make the default beverage water, sparkling water, or flavored water, as specified, or unflavored milk or a non-dairy milk alternative, as specified”
Spreading the movement
Like sugary drink taxes, this strategy is gaining momentum. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), nine California jurisdictions have already passed healthy kids’ meal policies. It’s also being discussed in Baltimore, Louisville, Colorado, New York City, Hawaii and Vermont.
CSPI believes the bills can make a significant difference in public health, citing research that proves consumers are more likely to choose an option when it is presented as the default.
“People lead such busy lives, especially parents, so it can be hard to recognize the choices that are made for us and change them as we see fit,” it said.
Margo G. Wootan, VP for nutrition at CSPI, responded to the new bill, saying: “Today’s [Wednesday's] vote demonstrates that the movement to address sugary drink consumption and protect public health marches forward."
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