As of this week, restaurants in Baltimore can no longer include sodas and other sugar-filled drinks on their children's menus, thanks to a new Healthy Kids Meals bill that just went into effect.
Under the Baltimore City Healthy Kids Meals Bill, signed by Mayor Catherine Pugh back in April, options for drinks that come with kids’ meals now have to be flat, sparkling or flavored water with no added sweeteners; milk or non-dairy alternatives; or 100 percent fruit juice.
Of course, if parents want to order a soda or other drink for their kids, they’re more than welcome—restaurants just can’t feature them on their menus for little ones. Eateries that don't comply with the policy will have to pay a $100 fine for each violation.
"Passing a law that creates healthy environments is within everyone's best interests,” Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, told CNN. “Our hope is actually that parents start thinking about how it really should just be a treat...not something that is always in their face."
While this will definitely make life easier for parents who weary of saying no to sodas that come free with their kids' meals, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. The Restaurant Association of Maryland opposed the legislation, concerned that some restaurants will suffer because soda is so much cheaper than single-servings of water, milk or juice. But this isn't about economics, it's about health.
A Harvard study determined that sugary drinks like soda are major contributors to childhood obesity, finding that for every 12-oz soda kids drank each day, their risk of obesity jumped by 60 percent, which in turn increased the risk of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
"The number one killer of both men and women in Baltimore and around the country is heart disease. That's fueled by high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity,” Baltimore’s Commissioner of Health Leana Wen, MD, says. “I'm an emergency physician, and it used to be that I treated only adults with these problems. Now, I'm treating children who are 8 years old and weigh over 200 pounds."
Baltimore is the largest American city to institute the policy, but many smaller cities in California have done the same, as well as Lafayette, Colorado. Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco now put additional taxes on sodas as a deterrent.
“We know that this is something that will have impact for our children and for generations to come,” Wen says.