City Hall: Committee Holds Hearing on Child’s Menu Beverage Bill

One of City Council’s standing committees, the Committee on Public Health and Human Services, heard testimony on bill 190505, which would require restaurants in the city who offer children’s meals to make the default beverage either water, sparkling water, flavored water, milk, or 100% fruit juice.

The ordinance was introduced by Councilmember Blondell Reynolds-Brown, who said the bill was another step in the City’s efforts to combat the dangerous health effects of obesity.

“By requiring restaurants to list healthy beverages when designing menu items for children, we help young people develop healthy habits early that will last them a lifetime,” Reynolds-Brown said.

Reynolds-Brown said that approximately 41% of Philadelphia children aged 6-17 are overweight and obese, which is 8% above the national average.

“Just one 12-ounce can of soda every day for one year is equal to 55,000 calories, or 15 pounds a year,” Brown said. “The school district and the City of Philadelphia have taken steps to remove unhealthy beverages from the list of options for young people.”

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley testified that children who suffer from obesity are five times more likely to be obese as adults, which leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory, joint, and mental health problems.

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley testifies at the hearing.

“Sugar sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet,” Farley said. “Consumption of these drinks have been linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dental caries. It is not a habit we should be encouraging in our city’s children.”

Farley said children eat at restaurants frequently, so much so that they consume nearly a quarter of their total calories at these establishments.

“Children who consume combination meals at restaurants are more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages and consume significantly more calories, about 180 more on average, than other children eating at the same establishments,” Farley said.

Farley also explained the difference between fruit drinks and fruit juice, a distinction the bill aims to highlight.

“Most of what children consume as their parents perceive as ‘fruit juice,’ is in fact ‘fruit drink.’” Farley said. “It’s got a little bit of fruit juice in it and a lot of sugar and water in it. Your typical juice box, which parents think of as healthy these days, is basically soda without the carbonation in it.”

Farley said these ‘fruit drinks’ were the most consumed sugary drinks among small children these days.

Dr. Barbara Gold, a general pediatric practitioner, testified that when she began her practice 35 years ago, she had two patients with type II diabetes. However, when she retired four years ago, she saw patients suffering from the disease weekly.

Drs. Huntley Hardison and Barbara Gold discuss the ramifications of too much sugar in a child’s diet.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) now estimates that 40% of the population will develop type II diabetes in their lifetime,” Gold said. “That is a staggering number of people who will suffer and require expensive health care for many years.”

Gold said she often told parents that soda is nothing more than “a candy bar in a can,” knowing parents were unlikely to give their children candy for breakfast.

“The AHA (American Heart Association) says no child should have more than one eight-ounce sugary drink per week,” Gold said. “But that guideline is followed by very few.”

Dr. Huntley Hardison, a retired pediatric neurologist who worked for 25 years at St. Christopher’s Hospital, said consumption of sugary drinks reduces brain volume and causes poor memory, which can lead to early Alzheimer’s disease.

“Data analysis shows that, compared with participants who consume less than one sugary beverage a day, those with higher intakes of sugary beverages were significantly more likely to have reduced brain volume on quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and lower test scores of logical memory,” Hardison said.

Reynolds-Brown said she doesn’t anticipate any complications with the passage of the bill.

“Our expectation is that this moves the first week in October,” Reynolds-Brown said.

The implementation period was extended to six months, and will begin in April 2020.

“It’s not unusual to extend the implementation date because we want to give the Health Department a chance to ramp up, as well as restaurants who deserve the chance to ramp up and change their menus,” Reynolds-Brown said, “because there is a cost attached to that.”

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a master’s degree in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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