Sugar

California makes restaurant kids’ meals healthier, puts children’s health first

On Tuesday, California became the first state to pass explicit legislation holding restaurants more accountable for children’s health. The new law, referred to as the “healthy kids’ meal bill,” requires that restaurants include healthy beverages like milk or water as the default with their kids’ meals. Though children or their accompanying adult(s) may still request to substitute the child’s default drink with a more sugary alternative like juice or soda, policymakers hope this menu change will reduce kids’ consumption of unhealthy drinks at restaurants. This change comes after six top chain restaurants—including Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Dairy Queen—already have taken soda off their kids’ menus altogether.

This kind of legislation had started in several California localities before becoming state law. Right now, other cities like New York City, Baltimore, and Louisville are considering implementing a similar bill. California’s precedent sends an important message to beverage industries, which have previously lobbied against public health measures that potentially threaten sales: “the movement to address sugary drink consumption and protect public health marches forward,” the Center for Science and Public Interest reports.

 

The notion that requiring “opting-out” of a default healthier choice will lead to more of its use than requiring “opting-in” is not new. In fact, behavioral economists have long studied this type of subtle nudging, and it already exists in many legislations around us. For example, schools expect enrollees to have received certain immunizations before the start of classes. Of course, students can receive exemptions from this stipulation, but if these immunizations were optional altogether, then schools would see many fewer students getting their shots than they do under the current “opting-out” scheme.

California’s new policy shows the state’s commitment to improving children’s health. If previous “opting-out” laws are any indication, their “healthy kids’ meal bill” will be able to reduce aggregate sugary drink consumption, while still ultimately preserving consumer choice. This is only one small step toward encouraging healthier diets for kids, but it is a step forward nonetheless.

Consequences of Sugar, Even Before Childhood

We often hear just how bad sugar is for your health. We also know that limiting sugars in children’s diets - in drinks and desserts, for example - is probably a good idea. Furthermore, a recent Harvard study has found that high sugar consumption (particularly fruit sugars and sugary drinks) during pregnancy might lead to increased asthma risks in their children, according to the New York Times.

 

The study builds on existing literature that links “obesity and poor [nutrition]” to “current increases in childhood asthma.” In the study, researchers tracked more than 1,000 women during their pregnancies and looked at their children’s asthma diagnoses by the time they were 3 to 7-years-old. The women who consumed the least amount of sugar in the study had 21 grams per day on average while women who consumed the most amount of sugar in the study had 46 grams per day on average. Researchers also collected data on the mothers’ education level and pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), as well as children’s BMI and race.

 

As a result, they found that the children of women who had the most sugar were 58 percent more likely to have asthma than the children of mothers who had the least amount of sugar during pregnancy. A lead author of the study noted that the mechanisms behind this difference is still unknow; however, the idea that a mother’s diet during her pregnancy could impact her children’s health years later is very important.

 

Once a baby is born, environmental and hereditary factors may influence the baby’s future health. Yet it seems that in some respects, prenatal environment may also contribute to children’s long-term health.