Restaurants in Prince George’s County that serve kids’ meals are required to offer healthy drink and food options, under a law that went into effect Monday.
The law requires county restaurants to offer a healthy drink (water, nonfat or 1% milk, a nondairy milk alternative or 100% fruit or vegetable juice) as the default beverage for kids’ meals.
It also requires restaurants to limit calories, sugar, salt and fat in kids’ meals.
The law will be phased in over five years.
In the first year, restaurants must include healthy drinks as the default option for kids’ meals. During the second year, restaurants must offer a default healthy side option. In the third year, restaurants must offer at least one healthy kids’ meal.
In the fifth year, enforcement of the law’s requirements will begin.
Under the law, families will be able to order other beverage items upon request.
The law is the 19th of its kind in the country, but it is the first to include healthier comprehensive options for food and drinks, according to a statement from Sugar Free Kids Maryland.
The Prince George’s County Council unanimously approved the kids’ meals bill in November, and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks signed into law.
“This new law, creating new opportunities for healthier food and beverage choices as the default offering, is an important tool in our continued effort to fight against high rates of childhood obesity and to encourage improved overall eating habits,” council member Sydney Harrison, sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.
The legislation was supported by Sugar by Sugar Free Kids Maryland, the Prince George’s Food Equity Council, the American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
County children are becoming at higher risk for developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease at “alarming rates,” partially due to the overconsumption of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods, said Sugar Free Kids Maryland.
Obesity rates in the county are reportedly much higher than statewide rates. Prince George’s had a 37% obesity rate among adults, compared to Maryland’s rate of 28.3% recorded by the state Health Department, according to 2016 data pulled from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Sydney Daigle, director of the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, said the county has a number of communities that are “inundated” with fast food and carryout and lack places to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.
“Research shows that living in an area with a high density of unhealthy options like fast food restaurants compared to healthy options like grocery stores is actually a greater predictor of increased community obesity rates than just the presence of just a grocery store in a community,” Ms. Daigle told The Washington Times.
Many kids are getting more than seven times the amount of sugar recommended by health experts, said Dr. Federico Asch, president of the American Heart Association (AHA) Greater Washington Region Board of Directors.
Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia and Delaware have similar healthy food and drink laws in place.