California Becomes First State to Pass Bill for Healthier Kids’ Meals

California Becomes First State to Pass Bill for Healthier Kids' MealsCalifornia has become the first state to pass a bill requiring that healthier beverages like water, unflavored milk, and plant-based milk be the principal drink options for kids’ meals at restaurants. While parents can still request soda or juice for their children, these drinks will no longer be offered by default.

The bill passed the California Senate 32 to 7 in May and the California Assembly 46 to 26 on August 21. The bill will soon arrive on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, where it will likely be signed into law.

The bill notes the importance of this policy due to ever-rising obesity rates in California. According to the legislation, obesity increased 250 percent in California between 1990 and 2016.

“Many families lack adequate time to obtain and prepare healthy food, making dining out an appealing and often necessary option. As a result, more than one-half of food expenditures in the United States are spent outside the home,” the bill states. “Nationwide, American children eat 25 percent of their calories at fast food and other restaurants. Children consume almost twice as many calories when they eat a meal at a restaurant as they do when they eat at home.”

“Today’s vote demonstrates that the movement to address sugary drink consumption and protect public health marches forward,” writes Margo Wootan Vice President for Nutrition at Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Advocates and policymakers are not intimidated by the beverage industry’s tactics and remain committed to reducing the harms from sugary drinks.”

The American Cancer Society applauded the legislation, telling KOVR that some children are drinking up to three sodas a day, “setting them up for tremendous cancer risks down the road.”

Nine jurisdictions within the state already have policies in place that support healthy drink options in kids’ meals. Similar policies also exist in Baltimore and Louisville and are forthcoming in New York City and in the states of Hawaii and Vermont.

Some restaurants have also voluntarily taken steps to encourage children to make healthier drink choices, such as McDonald’s, which announced five years ago that it would stop marketing soda as a Happy Meal drink option. In February, the chain also stopped marketing chocolate milk as part of the Happy Meal.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.