Choices and habits are established at a young age and nowhere can that have a greater impact on the long-term health of the individual than with the food children eat. Recognizing that fact, southern California health leaders combined with the City of Perris to require that healthy drinks be the default beverage served with kids’ meals at restaurants, making the community the first to do so in southern California.
The ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the Perris City Council in March of 2017, requires restaurants to make 100-percent juice, water or milk the “default” beverages in kids’ meals sold at restaurants in the community. The impetus for the ordinance was to create an effective tool to reduce obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in children caused by sugary drinks, which pose major health risks to thousands of children in the community and county.
“Perris was a good fit for this effort because they have been striving to make healthy changes to the city,” says Alfred Mata, public health advocate program manager for the non-profit agency Public Health Advocates. “As a result, there was consensus and buy-in from the council and city staff from the beginning. It ended up being unanimous.”
Mata says that the ordinance has served as a spark in southern California, creating renewed interest and desire to improve healthy eating opportunities throughout the region. To date, there are now four cities and one county in California to adopt similar healthy kids’ choice ordinances and campaigns are currently ongoing in additional cities, including Modesto, Long Beach and Riverside. That momentum is critical from the standpoint of public health in the state. An estimated 40 percent of Perris youth and adolescents are obese, which leads to increased incidences of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. More than half of Californians—55 percent—have pre-diabetes or diabetes, while 69 percent are overweight and at a higher risk of developing diabetes in the future.
Mata says the long-term impact of changes will be huge. “I grew up eating fast food. I spent every chance I had asking for a fast food kids’ meal that always came with some sort of sugary drink. To see that as a community, children will grow up to be much healthier adults and provided with the skills to make smart eating choices as adults will be immense.”
Others agree. “Empty calories from sugary drinks increase everybody’s risk of obesity and diabetes, kids and adults included. Now families can get healthier drink choices, and that really makes a big difference,” says said Dr. Cameron
Kaiser, a supporter of the ordinance. Mata credits Voices for Healthy Kids with providing key support for the healthy drinks movement in southern California.
“Voices for Healthy Kids has been a great in providing aerial support for all of our work—from tools to connections to funding. Their support has helped bring
our work to a new level,” he says.