New NPI study of voluntary kids’ meal healthy default beverage standards in California fast-food restaurants shows promising effects and room for improvement

Aug 4, 2020

A recent study by Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) researchers assessed differences in quick-service, or fast-food, restaurants with and without voluntary healthy default beverage standards for kids' meals. ‘Voluntary standards' are restaurant commitments to offer healthier drinks with kids' meals. Researchers evaluated the beverages shown on kids' meal menu boards, beverages offered by cashiers with kids' meals, and kids meal beverages selected by customers in 111 quick-service restaurants--70 with voluntary standards and 41 without--in SNAP-Ed eligible neighborhoods in 11 California counties. Data was collected by menu board and cashier order observations and customer surveys in December 2018 prior to the January 2019 implementation of a new California law (SB-1192) that requires all restaurants offering a kids' meal make the default beverage offered water, unflavored milk or a nondairy milk alternative and that only these beverages be displayed on kids' meal menus or advertisements.

Results from the study showed that significantly more quick-service restaurants with voluntary healthy default beverage standards for kids' meals offered unflavored milk or water on their menu boards compared to restaurants without voluntary standards. Customers at restaurants with voluntary standards reported purchasing healthier drinks and less soda compared with customers at restaurants without voluntary standards. These results suggest the voluntary healthy default beverage standards were effective at positively influencing restaurant practices and customer behavior. However, not all quick-service restaurants followed their own standards and much room for improvement remains. Additional intervention may be necessary to support full implementation of the standards and to maximize the impact on customer behavior and jurisdictions passing healthy default beverage laws for restaurant kids' meals may need to provide education and outreach alongside enforcement to ensure full implementation. The study was published online on July 22, 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health by NPI researchers Phoebe Harpainter, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Danielle Lee, Anna Martin, Wendi Gosliner, Lorrene Ritchie and Gail Woodward-Lopez. Read the full study online.