Bipartisan bill introduced to make kids' restaurant meals healthier in Minnesota

Bipartisan bill introduced to make kids' restaurant meals healthier in Minnesota Photo: Getty Images.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: February 24, 2021 06:00 PM
Created: February 24, 2021 04:55 PM

At the Minnesota Legislature, bipartisan legislation has been introduced that would make healthier drinks, such as milk and water, the default beverages in kids' menus at restaurants operating throughout the state.

Known as the Healthy Kids Meal Bill, the legislation was introduced in response to the long-term health impacts of unhealthy eating and drinking on children in Minnesota. Sugary drinks are a significant contributor to diet-related chronic diseases among residents, according to Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition.

“It’s recommended that children have no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink a week, but today the average child consumes as much as 10 times that amount,” said Jess Nolan of the American Heart Association. “That adds up to more than 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year — enough to fill a bathtub.”

An estimated 40% of children are likely to develop diet-related chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease in their lifetime. These, and other chronic diseases, put youth at an increased risk of serious illness including from COVID-19. Sugary drinks are also a major contributor to tooth decay, health groups say.

The legislation would require restaurants that offer a children's meal on their menus to list water, unflavored milk or a nondairy milk alternative as their default children's meal beverage. However, it would not ban the sale of sugary drinks, such as soda, to children but such items would no longer be automatically included as part of a restaurant's children's meal. In addition, once the legislation is in full effect, the bill would also require that a healthy side dish be offered on children's menus.

Implementation of the proposed bill would begin August 2022. It would also require that a health side dish be offered on children's menus beginning in August 2024. The five-year phased-in approach to implementing the legislation is to allow restaurants dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic to settle back into their normal business routines prior to the Healthy Kids Meal legislation going into effect.

MDH: Student survey shows troubling sugary drink consumption a growing trend

According to a Minnesota Department of Health analysis of students responding to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, it was discovered that nearly half of them are still consuming sugary drinks at least once a day. The analysis also found that African American students, American Indian students and other students of color reported drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages a day than white students, due in part to industry marketing.

Advertising by the sugary drink industry exceeded $1 billion in 2018 in the United States, according to a 2020 report by the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The report noted that African American children and teens see more than twice as many sugary drink ads as their white counterparts do, in part, to advertising during programming that is disproportionately directed toward them. Sugary drunks are also heavily advertised on Spanish-language television networks, according to a release.

“This is a small change that will have a powerful and positive impact on the health of Minnesota and the human and financial costs associated with unhealthy eating,” said Annie Krapek, a senior program manager with the Twin Cities Medical Society. “It will also be an easy lift for most restaurants currently offering kids’ meals because most already serve milk and water in addition to sugary drinks.”

It's estimated that diet-related chronic diseases cost Minnesotans more than $3 billion each year in increased health care costs.

Sponsors of the legislation in the Minnesota House include Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, and Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids.


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