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City of Davis sours on sweet drinks for kids' meals in restaurants

Davis, Calif., passes ordinance requiring restaurants to replace sugary drinks in kids' meals

Children in Davis, Calif., who are craving a juicebox with their restaurant meals will have to settle for water or milk because all other beverages are off the table.

The Davis City Council passed an ordinance this week requiring restaurants to replace sugary drinks in kids' meals with milk or water. Juice, soda or other beverages will still be available, but only upon the request of a parent.

Parent Kari Fry welcomed the new ordinance, saying making the right decisions for her children is a struggle.

“I certainly give my kids soda every once in a while on special occasion and prefer that to be at my choice and not a confrontation at the restaurant, where the parent is by default the bad guy, taking the sugary treat away,” she told the city council.

The undertaking came as childhood obesity rates skyrocket across California and the nation. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A quarter of children in fifth, seventh and ninth grades in Davis are overweight or obese, according to the city. More than half of children in those grades failed to meet California fitness standards in 2012.

Health experts have pushed for limits on sugary drinks that have been directly linked to diabetes and high obesity rates.

According to the CDC, teens drink more soda than milk per day.

A 20-ounce container of soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar, said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

Sweetened beverages, he said, deliver sugar in liquid form, making it easier for the body to absorb.

“There is no reason for kids to be given a sugary beverage when they go to a restaurant without their parents asking for it,” Goldstein said. “Passage of this ordinance in Davis really makes this city once again a leader in making the health of our children a top priority.”

Starting Sept. 1, restaurants must make water, milk or a milk alternative a default beverage in their children’s meals.

The city plans to track the sales by asking restaurants to fill out a form certifying whether they will sell children’s meals and will comply with the new ordinance. Enforcement will be driven by complaints.

Restaurants receiving valid complaints will received a notice, and could face fines of up to $500.

Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza said the ordinance is a low-cost alternative to dealing with childhood obesity.

“It’s education for parents and education for children without really making or telling anyone what to do,” he said.

But resident Dorte Jensen said the ordinance was “overkill” and suggests it be voluntary.

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