The lives of children in the United States have become inundated by sugary beverages. They are served with children’s meals in restaurants. They are used by some parents and caregivers as a reward. A good share of the billions of dollars in advertising the sugar-sweetened beverage industry spends each year on television, in display advertising, on billboards and online is aimed directly at children and teenagers. But amidst these troubling facts, there is good news.
Health advocates in Maryland are working to successfully counter the influence of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry by making the healthy choice the easy choice for young children in that state. Beginning last fall, all licensed childcare center operators in Maryland were required to provide healthier drinks to children, and give better support for mothers who are breastfeeding. They are also being required to reduce non-educational screen time. The three-pronged approach is the result of a new law that was pushed for largely by Sugar Free Kids Maryland, which was founded to reduce the twin epidemics of childhood obesity and teen diabetes.
Robi Rawl, the executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, says that the childcare center law was developed in large part because of the link between sugary drinks and the childhood obesity crisis.
“Public health experts have made it very clear that to combat childhood obesity, it’s imperative to focus on young children whose eating habits are still being formed, as well as on nutrition. This law does both, which is why we decided to put our efforts there,” she says.
Sugar Free Kids Maryland already has its sights set on two additional opportunities to further improve the health of the state’s children and youth. They will push for the passage of a measure that would require restaurants that off er children’s menus to serve only healthy beverage items as part of the bundled kids’ meal price. The second measure would remove the sales tax on bottled water, which is currently taxed at the same rate as sugary drinks.