The facts on sugary drinks are simple – they pose a real health risk. We know that these drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet and are associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
We know that kids are drinking far too many of them. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that kids over the age of 2 have no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink per week. Yet kids today are consuming as much as ten times that amount. We know that this over-consumption is taking a. Toll on our healthcare system and the economy. Costs to treat obesity and related chronic conditions run as high as $1.4 trillion annually, and diabetes alone accounts for approximately $245 billion in medical costs and lost productivity annually.
And we know that this is a significant issue right here in Austin, Texas. According to the AHA Community Assessment, the Central Texas Region has higher rates than state and national averages – across all ethnicities – for a lack of healthy food access, defined by the USDA as living more than a half mile from the closest supermarket or large grocery store.
As we look to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, Austin should take a page from a growing number of places across the country that have taken action to offer healthier options in childrens’ meals. Parents are busier than ever, and that often means feeding their families through take-out or drive thrus. Making restaurant meals healthier can improve diet quality, support busy parents, and cultivate lifelong healthy behaviors for all children. Beyond the immediate benefits,, a decline in sugary drink consumption will contribute to reducing chronic disease rates – helping our children live longer and healthier lives, reducing healthcare costs, and strengthening our local economy.
We can start by asking the City Council to support a policy that would make the default drink offered with a restaurant kids’ meal water, unsweetened dairy or non-dairy milk, or 100% fruit juice with no added sugar. Similar policies have been passed in California; Illinois; Longmont, CO; Wilmington, DE; and Columbus, OH. Several top chain restaurants, including McDonald’s and Applebee’s, also no longer list sugary beverages on kids’ menus. Research on these policies have demonstrated little or no economic impact, with managers reporting few complaints, no impact on the number of kids’ meals sold, and in some cases, even reported an increase in demand for healthier options.
A policy requiring healthy drink options for all kids’ meals would be a win for kids, a win for families, and a win for the economy, and a win for better health. Let’s make it happen right here in Austin.
For updates on this issue, text TEXAS to 46839 or visit YoureTheCure.org/join.
About the author: Alec Puente is the Texas Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association. Alec works on policies to improve the heart health of our friends and neighbors all across Texas. He resides in Austin Texas.