New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Healthy Happy Meals Passes New York City Council

Water, Low-fat Milk and 100% Fruit Juice to Become "New Normal" for All Kids Meals

New York, NY - Kids meals are in for a change. From the iconic McDonald’s Happy Meal to a kids’ meal at your local diner, water, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice will be the default instead of sodas that are high in sugar. Int. 1064-B authored by Council Member Ben Kallos received vital support from Speaker Corey Johnson who secured the endorsement of the American Beverage Association clearing the way for passage today by the New York City Council.

Obesity is an epidemic in New York City where more than half of adults are overweight or obese, according to the NYC Health. Obesity is starting early in life: nearly half of all elementary school children are not at a healthy weight and 1 in 5 kindergarten students enters school already obese.

How Far an 8 Year-Old Must Walk to Burn Calories from a 12-oz Soda The American Heart Association recommends that children limit consumption to one or fewer 8-oz sugar sweetened beverage per week. The New York Academy of Medicine testified that according to their scientific research a “12-oz serving of regular soda [in a kids meal can contain] more than 9 teaspoons of sugar. An average 8-year old would need to walk 70 minutes, or the distance between City Hall and Time Square, to ‘walk the calories off.’”

Families now spend more on dining-out than on home cooked meals and children consume over 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year on average, which is enough to fill a bathtub.

McDonald’s provided testimony that its Happy Meal was already compliant with the proposed legislation stating, “soda was removed from the Happy Meal section of U.S. menu boards in 2013.” The testimony continued sharing empirical evidence that changing the default beverages as McDonald’s had already produced results. “[W]e subsequently saw positive shifts in consumer behavior, and the number of Happy Meals served with water, milk, or juice has since increased by 14 percentage points. As of November 2017, and for the first time, more than half of Happy Meals served in the U.S. included water, milk or juice as the beverage of choice rather than soda and other beverages.”

Scientific research confirmed that the original “Healthy Happy Mealslegislation restricting calorie counts would have a positive impact on reducing caloric intake and obesity in children, according to research by Dr. Brian Elbel of the NYU School of Medicine published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study is applicable to the current legislation, which would have a similar impact.

A 2017 Global Strategy Group survey commissioned by the American Heart Association found that New Yorkers expressed nearly universal support (94 percent) for making the food and beverage options on children's menus healthier. The survey concluded that NYC voters are strongly in favor (87 percent) of making healthy drinks like water and low-fat milk the default drink option on children's menus.

In 2011, then Council Member and now Senator Leroy Comrie introduced the first “Health Happy Meals” legislation and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) launched a Kids LiveWell initiative with 19 brands such as Burger King and IHOP. Following introduction by Kallos in 2014, the NRA reported voluntary participation in the Kids LiveWell initiative by 150 chains with 42,000 locations in the United States in 2015. Participants are required to offer one full children’s meal that is 600 calories or less with additional requirements and limits, and one individual item that has 200 calories or less containing a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy, as well as promote and display or provide healthful menu options. Although the NRA presented testimony at the hearing, they did not oppose, take a position, or even mention the Health Happy Meals legislation. Unfortunately, scientific research published in 2017 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutritionist Alyssa J. Moran “found no meaningful reductions in calories, saturated fat or sodium in children’s menu fare during the first three years of the program at participating restaurants. In addition, sugar-sweetened drinks continued to make up 80% of beverage options on the kids’ menus, even though those restaurants had promised to significantly lower that figure,” as reported by Forbes.

“Healthy drinks with kid’s meals will be the new normal in New York City no matter where they are eating,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “While parents can still order whatever they want the default will be healthy. Healthy beverages by default are proven way to keep sugary drinks away our children, so they can avoid childhood obesity and grow up to be strong and healthy.”

“Our children are constantly being incentivized to make unhealthy food choices and as a result they are increasingly being diagnosed with health issues, such as obesity,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, author of companion Senate bill S486. “Similar to Council Member Kallos, one of my legislative priorities in the State Senate has been to set statewide nutritional standards for meals that are accompanied by a toy. Children are in the process of developing the habits that will affect the rest of their lives and I am pleased that this legislation aims to set standards that will encourage our City’s children to make healthy food choices without any misguided influence.”

We must encourage healthy eating habits for our children so they can make healthy choices as teens and adults. While eliminating sugary sodas is a good start, my bill (A.2845) would also set nutritional standards for all children’s meals that include a toy or incentive. Encouraging poor eating habits will perpetuate the obesity epidemic now burdening our healthcare system,” said Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, author of companion Assembly bill A2845.

“Over the past decade, the American Heart Association has been advocating for this and other policies that will help to reduce the consumption of added sugars, especially by NYC’s youth. As our mission states, we aim to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. Thoughtful strategies like this, that establish healthy beverage choices as the simpler option for families, are vital to the effort to improve heart and brain health in the city,” said Robin Vitale, Vice President of Health Strategies, American Heart Association.

“Sugary beverages contain no nutrients that children need, and they are disproportionally marketed to children in low income neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS, President, The New York Academy of Medicine. “We believe that every child should have equal opportunity to thrive and be healthy, and the NYC Healthy Happy Meals legislation is a step in that direction by ensuring that healthy drinks, and not sugar-laden alternatives, are the default for children’s meal in restaurants.”

“New York City joins a growing movement to stop restaurants from pushing soda and other sugary drinks on children. Sweet drinks are a top source of calories and sugars in children’s diets and a contributor to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Now that New York City, the state of

California, and a dozen localities around the country have passed policies to replace soda and other sugary drinks in restaurant children’s meals with healthier options, all restaurants should get on board and stop promoting liquid candy to kids,” said Margo Wootan, Vice President for Nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"As a pediatrician, it is not uncommon for parents to tell me they are not aware of the dangers of sugary beverages. Providing healthy beverages with kids meals reinforces the fact decreasing sugary drinks is a small change that hugely impacts children's health. Healthy Kids Meals will go a long way in helping parents make healthier beverage choices the norm in and outside the home,” said Dr. Vanessa Salcedo, Director of Wellness and Health Promotion of Union Community Health Center and Co-Chair of the Healthy Beverage Zone.

The American Heart Association testified that “People living in the U.S. consume about 34 pounds of added sugar every year from consumption of sugary drinks. An estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. die from heart problems each year caused by consuming too many sugary drinks alone.” They go on to note that in 2010, Americans started spending more on dining out than on home-cooked meals, rising to 48% up from 26% in 1970.

“The truth is that New Yorkers are busy, and more and more, we depend on the convenience of restaurant meals to feed our families. That’s why it’s important that restaurants offer healthy options – especially for children,” said LeWanza Harris, MD, MPH, American Heart Association spokesperson and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center.  “Improving healthy options on restaurant menus can help improve diet quality and cultivate lifelong healthy eating behaviors, which can help children grow up at a healthy weight and promote lifelong heart health. Drinking sodas and other sugary drinks, like energy and sports drinks, is associated with chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. We applaud Council Member Kallos for his vision for a healthier city.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network testified that “These trends are so alarming because approximately 18 percent of the over 40,000 cancer cases annually in New York City are caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, excess weight and excess alcohol consumption … Excess body weight increases the risk for several common cancers, including cancers of the female breast (postmenopausal), colon and rectum, uterus, kidney, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, pancreas, ovary, liver, gastric cardia, gallbladder, thyroid, meningioma, and multiple myeloma.”

“The science is clear — overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition are responsible for approximately 18 percent of the over 40,000 cancer cases annually in New York City,” said Michael Davoli, Director, Metro New York Government Relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “We owe it to the parents of New York City to do everything that we can to help them keep their kids eating healthy at home, at school and when they go out to eat. This simple legislation will go a long way toward helping kids stay healthy by reducing their consumption of sugary drinks.”

"The more than 2,500 pediatricians across the 5 boroughs fully support all efforts to reduce children's access to sugary drinks. As most doctors know, sugary drinks are the largest single source of added calories in our country, state and city, said Dr. Warren Seigel, Chair of the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics. “New York City's children and families need all the help politicians and policy makers can offer to help combat the ever present marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children and adolescents. We are enthusiastic about the New York City Council taking the lead in securing healthier kids' meals across the City. It is our hope that with New York City as a leader, the state will follow.”

DeWitt Clinton High School students Joshua Delgado a Senior and Miguel Graham a 10th Grader who are members of Teens for Food Justice advocated for healthy beverages on kids menus noting that restaurants in the vicinity of their high school in the northern Bronx, “we found lots of soda and sugary drinks like Sprite, Fanta, and Hi-C, but very few healthy options.”

The Bronx Healthy Beverage Zone (HBZ) testified that “The Bronx has among the highest prevalence of obesity in NYC: nearly 1 in 3 adults in the Bronx (31 %) are considered obese.” Launched in 2017, HBZ has moved forward with one goal in mind “saturate worksites in the Bronx with HBZ messages and evidence-based activities in order to reduce the proportion of community members drinking sugary beverages. Together, these organizations are creating a grass root movement to pledge and become role models for their community.”

NYC Health noted in their testimony that “In 2015, nearly a quarter of New York City children ages 0-5 consumed one or more sugary drinks daily and, within this same age range, Black and Latino children were significantly more likely to drink sugary drinks daily than white children.”

The new requires all 24,000 restaurants within New York City to make a healthy beverage option the default for kids meals and will hold non-compliant restaurants accountable. Any restaurant that violates any of the provisions shall be liable for a civil penalty up to $200.


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