Prince George’s County Passes Comprehensive Healthy Kids’ Meal Bill

by Marissa Sheldon
Prince George's County

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: County Bill 071: “Healthy Kids’ Meal Bill”

Overview: Prince George’s County, Maryland, has passed a bill requiring all restaurants in the county to provide healthy food and beverage options for kids’ meals. 

Location: Prince George’s County, Maryland

Population: 0.9 million

Food policy category: Nutrition

Program goals: To improve nutrition among children and reduce childhood obesity 

How it works: All restaurants across the county, including fast food chains, will be required to provide healthy beverages and side dishes as the default for kids’ meals. The implementation of the policy will take a tiered approach over five years. 

First, in years 1-2, restaurants will have to replace soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages in kids’ meals with one of the following healthier options:

  • water, sparkling water, or flavored water with no added sweeteners
  • nonfat or low-fat milk, or a nondairy milk alternative with no more than 130 calories per container 
  • 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, or fruit or vegetable juice that is combined with water and has no added sweeteners, in an eight-ounce serving size or smaller. 

In years 2-3, restaurants will have to start offering at least one healthy side, such as a half-cup serving of non-fried fruit or vegetables, as the default in all kids’ meals. 

In years 3-4, restaurants must begin offering at least one healthy kids’ meal option that meets the following nutritional standards:

  • has no more than 550 total calories, 700 milligrams of sodium, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, 15 grams of added sugars, and 0 grams of trans fats
  • includes at least one half-cup serving of non-fried fruit or vegetables (not to be replaced with 100 percent fruit juice);
  • includes at least one of the following food groups in addition to the above-mentioned fruit or vegetables:
    • non- or low-fat dairy (at least one cup);
    • a meat or meat alternative, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nuts and seeds (at least one ounce);
    • one whole grain item with at least eight grams of whole grains per half serving.

In year 5, enforcement (measures yet to be determined) will begin. 

Less healthy beverages and sides may still be ordered with a kids’ meal at the parents’ request.

Progress to date: The County Council passed the bill unanimously on November 17, 2020. 

Why it is important: The Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey/Youth Tobacco Survey data show that in Prince George’s County 16.8 percent of high school students are obese and 18.2 percent are overweight, in addition to which, 27 percent of middle school students self-reported being overweight. Childhood overweight and obesity tend to lead to obesity in adulthood, and 37 percent of Prince George’s County adults are obese, compared to 31 percent statewide.

Dietary choices have a significant impact on overall health. However, most children and adults do not meet the nutritional recommendations outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Children and adolescents require a healthy, balanced diet in order to maintain proper growth and development. Moreover, risk of death from heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes increases for people who consume too much sodium, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and unprocessed red meat, or who do not consume enough nuts and seeds, seafood, fruits, vegetables, whole grains or polyunsaturated fats. 

Restaurants should aspire to make sure that the food they are serving to children is not only palatable but also meets adequate nutritional standards and contributes to children’s developing healthy habits.

Program/Policy initiated: The bill is now waiting to be signed into law by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, and the policy will go into effect six months after it becomes law. 

Point of contact: 
Councilman Sydney Harrison
Phone: (301) 952-3820
Email: [email protected] 

Similar practices: Many other states and localities, including Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; Delaware; Hawaii; and California have enacted healthy kids’ meal policies, but Prince George’s County is the first in the nation to pass a bill that affects both beverages and food items. 

Evaluation: No evaluation has taken place because the policy has not yet gone into effect. 

Learn more:

References:

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