Cleveland moved through an ordinance to offer kids healthier restaurant meals, the culmination of a collaboration between local politicians and various stakeholders, including the beverage and restaurant industries.
The ordinance, which passed July 29, requires restaurants in the city to offer milk, water or 100% juice as the drink option when ordering a “children’s meal,” according to a news release from the Cleveland City Council.
Per the ordinance, which takes effect at the end of January 2021, the default drink on menus for kids’ meals must include:
- water, sparkling water or flavored water, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; or
- nonfat or 1% milk or a non-dairy milk alternative with no more than 150 calories per container or serving; or
- 100% fruit juice or fruit juice combined with water or carbonated water, with no added sweeteners, in a serving size of no more than 8 ounces.
Restaurants that violate the restrictions are subject to a warning on a first offense, $25 civil penalty on a second offense and $50 for any subsequent offenses.
“The science says that sugary drinks lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and all of those other social determinants of health, which causes health disparities in the city of Cleveland,” Councilman Blaine Griffin, chair of the Health & Human Services Committee, said in an interview.
Griffin, who sponsored the legislation, described the measure as a “critical step” in giving kids “a healthy start.”
In a press conference, he said a group of Cleveland citizens known as the Neighborhood Leadership Institute approached him regarding a wish to ensure children “have healthy menus and healthy diets.”
Tod Bowen, managing director of external affairs and government relations with the Ohio Restaurant Association, said his organization began working on the ordinance in early 2020 with the City Council and public health officials before the coronavirus affected the country.
The measure, he said in an interview, represented “a great example of a partnership between elected officials, health officials and the affected businesses and our supply chain.”
Kimberly McConville, executive director of the Ohio Beverage Association, reached a similar conclusion. She said her organization worked with its “restaurant partners and a coalition of public health interests to find common ground” after it was approached by Griffin to help with the ordinance.
“The result is a policy to help reduce beverage calories in kids’ meals while preserving parental choice,” McConville said in an email. “Our experience in Cleveland shows that the better way is for government, our members and public health to work together toward meaningful solutions.”
Parents have the option of requesting a substitute beverage for their child, such as a cola. “As Councilman Griffin, who really shepherded this through nicely, said, ‘If your kid got all As and you want to give them that treat, that freedom is there,’” Bowen observed.
The ordinance also was backed by the local chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA). “This is a simple way of helping parents make healthy choices when ordering off of the kids’ menu,” said Valerie Hillow Gates, executive director of the Cleveland AHA, in a news release.
Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew is a medical doctor with University Hospitals in Cleveland and serves as AHA board president of the Cleveland division. In the release, she applauded the City Council’s vote, and noted studies show sugary drinks can lead to such maladies as dental decay, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
“Cleveland now joins cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Louisville, and states like California, Hawaii and Delaware—all of whom have acted to make restaurant meals healthier for kids,” Sara Ribakove, policy associate with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said in a statement.
A 2018 survey revealed nearly 30% of children in Cleveland are obese or overweight, the City Council reported in its release.
Conditions such as diabetes and obesity have “led to a lower life expectancy and a lower quality of life for neighborhoods that have experienced ‘redlining’ and other types of racial constructs that we believe [have] held back communities, predominantly communities of color—poor black and Latinx communities of color for decades,” Griffin said in the interview.
Many of these areas are “food deserts” that don’t offer kids healthy options, and the City Council is seeking to adopt “healthier policies” so the success of kids living in these neighborhoods “isn’t determined by their zip code,” Griffin added.
He concluded, “I think we all spoke in one voice—that we want our children to be healthier in the city of Cleveland.”
Councilman Basheer Jones, co-sponsor of the legislation, said he grew up in neighborhoods in Cleveland “where the majority of our food options were fast-food restaurants and local corner stores.”
“And it was dinner and breakfast and lunch and snacks,” he added during the press conference. “We didn’t know it at the time, but as we got older, we began to see the impact of food. And we understand that food is medicine.”
He said he didn’t grasp at the time the correlation between consumption of sugary drinks and his inability to focus in the classroom.
Commenting on the ordinance, Jones expressed gratitude to groups working on the measure, including the Ohio Beverage Association.
“It showed the collaborative effort that it is going to take for us to make Cleveland a better place,” he said.