Baltimore Bans Soda in Kids' Meals

A city ordinance that took effect this week forces restaurants to join the fight against childhood obesity.


Joshua Resnick/Dreamstime.com

A new Baltimore ordinance aimed at fighting childhood obesity bans sugary drinks such as soda from kids' menus in city restaurants.

According to a press release from the Baltimore Health Department, "water, milk, and 100% fruit juice are now the default beverage options for all kid's meals." The ordinance, signed into law by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in April, took effect on Wednesday. Although some smaller cities have similar laws, Baltimore is believed to be the first major city in the United States to regulate the beverage options that restaurants offer kids.

"The science is clear," Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen said in the press release. "One of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is sugary drinks, and childhood obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, and early death." The health department says one in three school-aged children in Baltimore is overweight or obese.

"This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice," Wen said. The ordinance does not prohibit children from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants. They can still get soda, but their parents might need to pay a little more, since the disfavored drinks won't be included in kids' meal deals.

Any restaurant that flouts the new law will face a $100 fine, the Associated Press reports. "Public policy that interferes with the minutiae of restaurant operations exacerbates the business challenges already facing Baltimore City restaurants," Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy at the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said in a statement to Reason. "We opposed this legislation because it unnecessarily interferes with how our industry packages, prices and sells meals."

Some public health experts say the ordinance does not go far enough. Claire Wang, an associate professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, notes that fruit juices, which the city says can still appear on kids' menus, can contain just as many calories as soda. While the law "is one step towards the right direction," Wang told NBC, "some juices, such as apple juice, in fact have been used as a sweetener, and it contains a lot of sugar, so it is still not recommended in large amounts for children."