This week, Baltimore passed legislature prohibiting restaurants from listing sodas and other sugary drinks on their kids’ menus. The effort aims to address the childhood obesity crisis by targeting high sugar beverages, replacing them instead with water, milk, and 100 percent fruit juice on menus. Joining 7 cities in California and one in Colorado in passing this legislation, Baltimore is the first major city and the first on the east coast to do so. Parents will still have the ability to order their children these sugary drinks if they wish to do so, however these options will not be present on menus.
Though the issue of childhood obesity is affecting the entire country, Baltimore is experiencing it at a higher magnitude. A third of its high school students are classified as obese and a quarter of its children consume at least one soda a day, as per Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. She states that “the science is clear that a major contributor to childhood obesity is sugary drinks.” Wen believes that removing sugary drinks from children’s menus will have a profound benefit on the city’s youth lifestyle.
According to Shawn McIntosh, Executive Director of the health advocacy group Sugar Free Kids Maryland, his organization has been pushing for this legislation for years. He states that the average Baltimore family eats out nearly 3 times a week and believes that this new rule will translate its health benefits beyond the restaurant environment. “This is a way of helping families have healthier beverage options for their children, so they start making healthier choices outside the home, and then inside the home,” says McIntosh.
Health experts note that despite this accomplishment, encouraging consumption of fruit juice can also be a source of excess sugar intake. Dr. Claire Wang is a professor at Columbia University that specializes in fighting childhood obesity and claims that the ordinance is “one step towards the right direction” and that moderate amounts of fruit juice is still a better option than sodas for children. Harvard professor Frank Hu praises the legislature for potentially bringing healthy drinking habits into the households of these children and benefiting adults in the house. He is also weary of alternative beverages high in sugar, like fruit juice, claiming that it is imperative to evaluate how these changes affect Baltimore in the future.
The Baltimore City Health Department has launched a health education campaign titled “Rethink Your Drink” with the goal of informing citizens about the risks of high sugar beverages. The campaign is pushing for legislature to require the following warning on advertisements, and in any venue selling sugar-sweetened beverages:
“WARNING: DRINKING BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR CONTRIBUTES TO TOOTH DECAY, OBESITY, AND DIABETES. THIS MESSAGE IS FROM THE BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT”.
To view the campaign’s full site, click here.