In an op-ed published in The Hill this morning, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen lauded a bill that would make healthy beverages like milk and water the default option on children’s menus instead of soda and sugary drinks.
“Currently, many restaurants include soda and fruit drinks as part of the kid’s meals, and parents must pay extra for the healthy alternatives,” she wrote. “Switching the default option is a simple step that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.”
Here in Baltimore, one in three high school students are obese or overweight, Wen wrote, mirroring a statistic that a quarter of high school students drink at least one soda a day. Anecdotally, Wen said she has treated more and more young people with high blood pressure and adult-onset diabetes, which lead to chronic diseases in adulthood that can sometimes be fatal.
“The science is clear–sodas have empty calories that have no nutritional benefit,” she said.
Wen pointed to the success of similar ordinances in seven cities in California, the county of Santa Clara, California, and the city of Lafayette, Colorado.
Berkeley, California, levied a tax on soda, dropping consumption by 21 percent. But this bill still offers choice, Len wrote.
It would also serve as a counter measure to beverage companies that target low-income communities of color.
“These communities already shoulder the greatest burden of chronic disease, with the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes,” Wen wrote.
The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Brandon Scott, is scheduled for second reader at tonight’s city council meeting.
Wen, Scott and Sugar Free Kids Maryland executive director Shawn McIntosh are scheduled to talk about the bill’s benefits at 4:30 p.m.