Sodas to disappear from kids’ menus in Wilmington

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Healthy drinks will be the default offering for kids’ meals in Wilmington restaurants under legislation approved by city lawmakers.

The Healthy Kids’ Meals Ordinance requires milk, water, or 100 percent fruit juice to be offered for children’s meals as part of an effort to reduce obesity and improve health for city residents.

“This is a proud moment for us to have an initiative to promote healthy kids meals and health consciousness for youth,” said Wilmington Councilman Vash Turner.

Mayor Mike Purzycki is expected to sign the legislation that will take effect 90 days from then.

More than 36 percent of Wilmington kids are overweight or obese, according to the latest Kids Count fact book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Those numbers show improvement. According to a 2011 study by Nemours, the obesity level among African-American boys in Wilmington declined from 46.5 percent in 2008 to 40.3 percent in 2011.

“The average American child consumes more than 10 times the maximum amount recommended by the American Heart Association, which, in fact, recommends no more than 8 ounces of sugary drink weekly,” said Jonathan Kirch of the AHA. “It’s just really helpful and encouraging when we can take our families to restaurants, and those businesses don’t make default choices for us that are unhealthy for our children, but in fact are supportive of our health.”

While some restaurants have taken steps on their own to reduce their sugary drink offerings to kids, three-quarters of the top fast-food chains still offer sugary drinks to youngsters.

Meanwhile, a dozen communities — including Baltimore and Louisville, Kentucky — have adopted ordinances such as Wilmington’s. California was the first to do it on a statewide basis, and New York City and Washington, D.C., are considering similar legislation.

The American Beverage Association, which represents the soda industry, said it supports restaurant operators who want to voluntarily offer milk, water or juice as the default option for kids. Parents “also want to be able to select another beverage available on the menu, such as a soft drink, if they choose,” the association said.

A restaurant that violates the ordinance after a first warning will face a $250 fine. Subsequent violations within a five year period would bring a $500 fine.

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