As the food court at a Sacramento mall buzzed with families on a recent summer day, Emily Wickelgren and her daughter, Thea, were enjoying lunch at Subway. The 7-year-old opted for water with her sandwich instead of soda or juice.
“I do have unusual kids in that neither one of them likes soda and they don’t really like juice,” said Wickelgren, the mother of two daughters.
This is what many legislators hope will be the new norm for more California families. Under a bill advancing in the Capitol, restaurants could offer only water or milk with meals marketed for children. Not soda. Not juice. Not chocolate milk.
Those sugary drinks would still be available, at no extra cost, but only upon request. They couldn’t be advertised alongside kids’ meals or offered as a default option. If the bill becomes law, cashiers would ask customers ordering a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, for instance, if they want water, milk or a non-dairy substitute like almond milk. California would become the first state in the nation with such a requirement.
It’s the Legislature’s latest attempt to combat obesity and diabetes by limiting how much soda Californians drink. Research shows that kids often get extra calories in their diet from sugary drinks like soda. The extra sugar puts them at a higher risk for tooth decay, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to Public Health Advocates, a sponsor of the bill. Some health experts think changing the drinks offered with kids' meals will cause a long-term behavioral shift, leading other kids to become more like Thea and prefer water over pop.