City Council has yet to review a draft policy, submitted by Davis Housing & Human Services in December concerning the addition of healthy beverage options to kids meals. The policy requires Davis restaurants to set default beverages for kids meals from sugary drinks – such as soda – to healthier beverage options.
“The discussion is regarding whether the drink option in a kids meal at local restaurants should default to milk or water. Other options (including soda and juice) could be available upon request, but wouldn’t be default,” said Danielle Foster, city of Davis Housing & Human Services superintendent, in an email interview.
The policy refers to several research studies conducted by health advocates and organizations. One of the main organizations is First 5 Yolo, a local agency whose mission is to improve the lives of young children and their families in Yolo County.
“This draft policy shows the obesity problem in Davis as well as the state of California. It shows the influence that kids meals have toward childhood obesity rates. Most kids meals are very unhealthy, and it’s not only the fat…it’s [also] the sugar. The soda that accompanies most kids’ meals is where we decided to target our effort,” said Julie Gallelo, executive director of First 5 Yolo.
According to First 5 Yolo findings a quarter of Davis children in grades 5, 7 and 9 are obese or overweight. One fifth of Davis’ 122 restaurants offers kids’ meals, however only four of them offer healthier beverage options.
“Part of why we have childhood obesity is the bad diet that they are exposed to, both at home and certainly in restaurants… there is absolutely no doubt that sugary beverages contribute to childhood and adulthood obesity,” said John Troidl, a Davis resident and healthcare management professor at California State University, Sacramento.
The draft policy includes statistics published by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. According to their findings, drinking sugary beverages on a daily basis increases a child’s odds of becoming overweight or developing obesity by 55 percent. Additionally, sugary drinks are associated with high levels of triglycerides in the blood, which according to the report “increase a child’s risk for heart disease later in life.”
One of the recommendations made by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy for cities with obesity problems were to “offer water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent fruit juice (in age-appropriate quantities) as part of a kids meal” unless a customer specifically requests an alternative beverage.
“It’s a great idea. What’s happened is that beverage companies have bought the menu in a lot of the restaurants. This policy would work with the restaurant and say ‘why don’t we move the menu a little bit back to neutral,’ and make sure that there is a healthy option in the menu,” Troidl said.
Troidl also refers to the effect of such policy on business owners. He asserts that the policy only requires restaurants to give a new option in one of their products, instead of restricting their business activities.
“It’s not taking away a choice, it’s giving people an option….In some ways, [the policy] amplifies the menu rather than constricts it. If anything, it will have a positive financial impact on the restaurants,” Troidl said.
The effectiveness of the policy would only be determined by parents’ response to the establishment of this ordinance.
“It depends on the uptake. If families give a strong and positive response to having this option on the menu, then we’re talking about a couple of years. If they don’t, it could be longer,” Troidl said.
The City Council has shown interest in the policy. According to Foster, the policy will be part of the Mayor’s Healthy Family Initiative, and is supported by the city’s Social Services Commission, which advises the City Council. Additionally, there will be an outreach to the community, specifically to local restaurants, of the policy before it is taken back to the Social Services Commission and City Council for approval.
First 5 Yolo is currently waiting for the city council’s outreach efforts to local restaurants. The organization also volunteered to assist the city council in constructing survey tools to assess impact on the restaurants. The city council has yet to respond to the offer, and has not set an official date or timeline.
“To date, we are waiting to hear back from City staff about our offer of assistance and their timeline. We are anxious to begin our work with the Social Services Commission to draft the local ordinance, but do not yet have a date to begin that work,” Gallelo said in a follow-up email interview.
The California Endowment gave First 5 Yolo a $20,000 grant to work on this issue in Davis. However, the organization hopes to expand their work to other cities throughout Yolo County.
“We have been on this for a year now, trying to work for the ordinance of Davis. If we’re successful, we hope to work a similar ordinance for Woodland and West Sacramento,” Gallelo said.
Gallelo believes community members that support the ordinance should contribute to the cause by asserting the need of such an ordinance in Davis.
“They [community members] can come to the city council meeting and give comments or support of the change for the kids meal. We are specifically looking for parents who have children in the age who usually buys kids’ meals, [around] two to six years of age,” Gallelo said. “Also, if you have relationships with city council members in other cities, we would love to have the help… to get the message out.”
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.