New NPI study evaluates restaurant kids' meal beverage offerings before and after implementation of healthy default beverage policies in California and Wilmington, DE

Apr 19, 2021

Over 40% of US children ages 2-5 years consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), a concerning statistic given SSB are a leading contributor to child obesity. One-in-three children eat at quick-service restaurants on any given day and policies that require restaurant kids' meals to offer only healthy default beverages are one strategy to improve children's beverage intake. Researchers at the University of California (UC) Nutrition Policy Institute and the University of Delaware Center for Research in Education and Social Policy recently examined restaurant beverage offerings in 111 quick-service restaurants in California and 16 quick- and full-service restaurants in Wilmington, Delaware before and after restaurant healthy default beverage policies were implemented. California law, SB1192, requires that only water and unflavored milk or a non-dairy equivalent be offered with restaurant kids' meals. The Wilmington policy, ordinance no. 18-046, allows for flavored milk and unsweetened 100% juice or juice diluted with water in addition to the beverages allowed in California. Observations of restaurant menus showed improvement from 2019 to 2020 in beverages offered with kids' meals in California, but not in Wilmington, post-policy. However, during orders of kids' meals, only 1% of restaurant cashiers or servers offered the healthy default beverage in California and none in Wilmington after the policies went into effect. Less than one in four restaurant managers interviewed in California knew about the beverage policy, and none did so in Wilmington, despite most managers in both California and Wilmington expressing support for the policy. This study suggests the need for additional efforts to strengthen the implementation of kids' meal beverage policies. The study was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition by NPI researchers Lorrene Ritchie, Phoebe Harpainter, Marisa Tsai, Gail Woodward-Lopez and Wendi Gosliner in collaboration with Tara Tracy, Kathleen McCallops and Allison Karpyn from the University of Delaware and Isabel Thompson from UC Berkeley. The study was funded by the California Department of Public Health, with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – USDA SNAP, a grant to Duke University from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.