Baltimore has banned sugary drinks from children’s menus, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so.
The measure is intended to promote healthy eating habits among children and their families by making water, milk, and 100% fruit juices the default beverages on kids’ menus. The change went into effect on July 18, 2018.
Though while the drinks aren’t listed on the menus, parents do still have the option of ordering sodas and other sugary drinks for their kids.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem nationwide, but it’s especially troublesome in Baltimore, where 1 in 3 high school students are obese, and 1 in 4 children drink 1 or more sodas each day, according to Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.
“The science is clear that a major contributor to childhood obesity is sugary drinks, and taking out these empty calories is one of the single biggest lifestyle changes that parents and children can make.”
I’d have to disagree with fruit juice being one of the default drinks on kids’ menus, however. While they do contain vitamins and fiber and therefore can’t be considered “empty calories,” fruit juice often contains just as much sugar as soda, if not more. Seeing as Americans already over-consume sugar to a high degree, cutting out any unnecessary sugar sources is likely a healthy decision.
Public experts say the initiative is a step in the right direction, but agree that fruit juice as an alternative isn’t really a healthy option, though it could be considered slightly healthier than soda.
Dr. Claire Wang, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health who specializes in policy that fights childhood obesity, commented:
“Some juices do contain more fiber and vitamins, but some juices, such as apple juice, in fact have been used as a sweetener, and it contains a lot of sugar, so it is still not recommended in large amounts for children. Personally, I think [the ordinance] is one step towards the right direction. The 100% fruit juice in modest doses is still superior to soda.”
Restaurants that fail to comply with the ordinance will face a $100 penalty. They were not required to print new kids’ menus on July 18, but they did have to make the changes visible to patrons as they work to implement permanent changes.
Shawn McIntosh, director of the Sugar Free Kids Maryland advocacy group, said:
“They have to at least put a sticker on, have signage. Their online menus have to be changed [by July 18] because that’s an easy fix. So they’re not expecting them to print all new menus [by July 18].”
Some smaller cities across the U.S. have banned sodas and other sugary drinks from kids’ menus, and some restaurant chains have done the same, including Applebees, IHOP, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.
 NBC News
 Associated Press