Last March, Healthy Meals for Children, which requires restaurants in Montgomery County that offer a children’s meal to provide a healthy option (meal and drink) for their youngest customers, was passed. The requirements are phased in with a default healthy beverage being the first (now in effect) followed by a healthy meal option six months later.
Councilmember Craig Rice spearheaded the legislation, and Council President Gabe Albornoz and Councilmembers Will Jawando, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker are cosponsors. The bill was enacted by a vote of 8-1, with Councilmember Friedson voting against the legislation. “Childhood obesity remains a longstanding problem in our nation and the rate continues to climb impacting our children’s health and quality of life. Especially in a time when our busy lifestyles have more families eating out, it is imperative that as a County we encourage healthy options in our children’s meals,” said Councilmember Rice, who serves as chair of the Council’s Education Committee and as a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “I applaud the many restaurants, large and small, in our community that are already providing healthier selections. This bill lays out a minimum threshold over an extended period to ensure that our children have a healthier beverage and meal option available to them, all in order to promote more healthful eating habits throughout their lives.”
As childhood obesity continues to rise nationwide at alarming rates, including in Montgomery County, children are also at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and other chronic illnesses. One of the major contributing factors to childhood obesity is the overconsumption of sugary drinks and high fat, processed, unhealthy foods. The trend has become of even greater concern during the pandemic given that children with pre-existing health conditions, including obesity, were found to be at greater risk of falling severely ill after contracting COVID-19. Bill 1-22 provides a phased-in approach to requiring healthier beverages and meals for children, making nutritious options more accessible for families.
The legislation requires within 1 year after it is signed into law that any food service facility that offers a children’s meal with a beverage must offer a default beverage that has no added natural or artificial sweeteners and meets certain nutritional standards. The next phase occurs 18 months after the legislation is signed into law and requires restaurants that offer a children’s meal to offer a healthy option that adheres to certain nutritional standards. While a healthy option must be presented, customers are not limited in selecting any menu item of their choice.
Bill 1-22 builds upon a similar law that took effect in Prince George’s County in May of 2021, and was developed with recommendations from the American Heart Association, the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the MD-DE-DC Beverage Association and other stakeholders. A key component emphasizes education and outreach efforts by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to support our restaurants in the provision of healthy children’s meals.