BY EMILY SWANSON
Minnesotans For Healthy Kids Coalition
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Minnesota that will make healthy drinks—such as milk—the default beverages in kids’ menus at restaurants operating throughout Minnesota.
Known as the Healthy Kids Meal Bill, the legislation was introduced in response to the devastating long-term health impacts of unhealthy eating and drinking on children in Minnesota. Sugary drinks are a significant contributor to diet-related chronic diseases among Minnesotans.
It’s recommended that children have no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink a week, but today the average child consumes as much as 10 times that amount. That adds up to more than 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year—enough to fill a bathtub.
An estimated 40 percent of children are likely to develop diet-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease in their lifetime. These, and other chronic diseases, put youth at increased risk of serious illness including from COVID-19. Sugary drinks are also a major contributor to tooth decay. Diet-related chronic diseases cost Minnesotans more than $3 billion each year in increased healthcare costs.
An added benefit of the Healthy Kids Meal Bill is that it will help to increase sales of dairy products in Minnesota, which will, in turn, help increase income to dairy producers. Minnesota lost more than 250 dairy farms in 2019 due to low dairy prices brought on, in part, by decreased demand.
The legislation would require restaurants that offer a children’s meal on their menus to list water, unflavored milk, or a nondairy milk alternative, as their default children’s meal beverage. It does not ban the sale of sugary drinks, such as pop, to children but such items would no longer be automatically included as part of a restaurant’s children’s meal, as they commonly are now. Once the legislation is fully in effect in 2024, it would also require that a healthy side dish be offered on children’s menus.
There is a five-year phased-in approach to implementing the legislation to allow restaurants dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic to settle back into their normal business routines prior to the Healthy Kids Meal measure going fully into effect. Most restaurants already make water and milk available on their menus.
For parents like Sara DeVos of Sartell, the legislation is welcomed because it will help to reinforce the healthy eating habits they work on at home when they go to a restaurant.
“For me this is about consistency when it comes to healthy eating and drinking,” says DeVos. “Having healthy drinks as the default beverage on kids’ meals at restaurants will help me as a parent reinforce the importance of eating healthy, not only in our home, but also when eating at a restaurant.”
Minnesota organizations supporting the Healthy Kids Meal Bill include: the American Heart Association; Twin Cities Medical Society; Action for Healthy Kids; Allina Health; CentraCare Health – BLEND; CentraCare Health – Feeling Good MN; Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN; Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN; HealthPartners; Regions; Local Public Health Association of MN; Minnesota Medical Association; Minnesota Public Health Association; MN Academy Nutrition Dietetics; MN Academy of Pediatrics (MN-AAP); The Kidney Foundation; American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; American Diabetes Association; Metro Doctors; Minnesota Dental Association; and others.