Healthier dining options for kids are now the law in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
With the “Healthy Kids’ Meals Bill” becoming law, Prince George’s County joins cities like Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia — and the state of Delaware — in enacting measures aimed at improving childhood nutrition.
“This new law … is an important tool in our continued effort to fight against high rates of childhood obesity and to encourage improved overall eating habits,” said County Council member Sydney Harrison, who sponsored the bill.
Elements of the law, which took effect on Monday, will be phased in annually over the course of five years. Year 1 requires restaurants to include healthy drinks — water, milk or juice — as default options in kids’ meals. (Families would still have the option to request another beverage, such as a soft drink.)
Sugar Free Kids Maryland spokesman Andy Krauss said this law will not take away choices for children or their families.
“What we are simply doing is making the healthier options default choices and making it an easier choice for those children and their families to make that choice of choosing water, milk or 100% fruit juice. We’re not taking away any options at all. You can still order whatever drink you’d like for your children,” Krauss said.
In Year 2, each restaurant must also offer a default healthy side option for kids’ meals. In Year 3, restaurants must offer at least one kids’ meal that is defined as a ‘healthy kids’ meal.’ Then in Year 5, some form of enforcement is set to begin.
Various advocates for childhood nutrition praised the measure. Dr. Federico Asch, a cardiologist and president of the American Heart Association Greater Washington Region Board of Directors, called it “a win” for public health. “Many kids are getting over seven times the amount of sugar recommended by the American Heart Association,” he said.
And Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, pointed out that healthier choices lead to healthier diets — and a lower chance of developing a chronic disease.
“We are excited that Prince George’s County has taken the opportunity to ensure that healthy choices will be easier to make for county families, so that their children can have better opportunities to live long, healthy lives,” McIntosh said.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.