Would you like a Coca-Cola with that kid’s meal? You will have to request off the menu in New Orleans under this new rule | local politics

New Orleans kids’ meals should come with a healthy drink by default under a new city council ordinance that’s meant to curb childhood obesity but has drawn objections from the restaurant industry.

The new law, backed by outgoing District E Council member Cindy Nguyen, won unanimous approval on Thursday. The New Orleans Department of Health helped draft the rule, which requires restaurants to serve water, milk or a juice drink if they have kids’ meals.

Kids and parents will still be able to order soft drinks, but only by off the menu. The decree will enter into force on New Year’s Day 2023.

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“This is really about helping our young people stay healthy, but not taking away our parents’ rights,” Nguyen said. “We really see this as a very simple step to educate and move our families toward a healthier choice.”

According to Nguyen, 2-4 year olds in New Orleans are 14% obese. Nutrition experts say sweetened beverages mainly contribute to childhood obesity, putting children at risk of developing diabetes, asthma and other chronic diseases.

The American Heart Association backed the decree, and childhood nutrition experts also said it could help stave off obesity.

“I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction in terms of childhood obesity prevention, but it can be considered as part of a comprehensive, long-term strategic initiative,” said Denise Holston, associate professor at the AgCenter School at Louisiana State University. Nutrition and Food Science. “We also need to consider the affordability, accessibility, and availability of quality healthy food options within New Orleans, especially in underserved areas.”

As New Orleans joins the ranks of 40 cities and four states that have passed similar laws, the law has alarmed restaurant and beverage industry representatives who say it will increase the burden on businesses struggling with the pandemic. They said the council should adopt a symbolic resolution instead.

“Our industry has been struggling,” said Danielle Leger of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “We appreciate the important issues related to children’s health that have been raised, however, and we ask that you instead adopt a resolution at this time.”

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Nguyen said she is “very sensitive” to restaurant concerns and has worked with actors to allow a greater choice of juice or fruit drink. It also said it has postponed the effective date of the decree to next year to allow a longer period for education and communication with restaurants.

Many large fast food chains have already switched to healthy drinks by default, which means the law can mostly affect smaller, independently owned restaurants.

The health department will be tasked with law enforcement, based on menu ratings for new restaurants or 311 complaints for existing restaurants. The first violations within a year will lead to “additional education,” the second will come with a warning, and the third will come with a fine of $200, according to the decree.

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“This isn’t really a penal code, it’s really about encouragement,” Nguyen said.

District Council member Joe Giaroso said he was concerned that restaurants would respond to the ordinance with a “final offer” such as offering cake or ice cream instead.

This has not happened in other regions that have passed similar legislation, said Jenny Donovan, deputy director of the Department of Health. She said the law is specifically designed for drinks because they contribute more to sugar intake.

“Beverage number one,” Donovan said.

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