A new law in Prince George's County requires all restaurants in the county to provide healthier food and drink options with their kids meals in an effort to prevent childhood obesity and health problems.
Starting Monday, restaurants must include healthy drinks with kids meals, and healthier additions will be added over the next five years until there is a healthy kids meal option. Restaurants that don't follow the rules will be penalized.
“No matter what tax bracket you are in, whether you live in a food desert or you live in a gated community, everyone now has a healthier option to choose from, and I think that’s amazing,” James Tate, a nutrition therapist and author said.
Before Tate wrote about preventing childhood obesity, he lived it.
“I was that overweight child, overweight teenager and overweight adult,” he said. “I was 275 lbs in high school. I was over 300 lbs in college.”
Tate weighed 415 lbs when he changed his life, and he supports a new law in Prince George's County aimed at helping others do the same.
“Prince George's County is leading the charge of this wellness revolution to impact the lives of children,” Tate said.
Overweight and obese Prince George's County high school students increased from 30.7% in 2013 to 35.7% in 2016. Those figures are well above the state average.
“We know that obese children are at least twice as likely as non-obese children to become obese adults, so this is really starting as early as possible to again, make the healthy choice the first choice or the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Dr. George L. Askew, the deputy chief administrative officer for the department of health, human services and education.
When this bill was proposed last fall, Mary Hopkins Naives actively supported the bill.
“I am a McDonald's franchisee and love Prince George's County,” she said.
As a company, McDonald's no longer promotes its happy meal toy in commercials and offers healthy beverage and fruit options. This bill takes that further, something Hopkins Navies supports.
“Particularly during this pandemic, we saw it more than ever where African Americans and people of color had all kinds of health disparities,” Hopkins Navies said. “Those things don't just start. They are started from when a child is young.”
According to the county's department of health, one in five middle school students in the county and one in four high school students do not participate in physical activity at least one day a week.
This, coupled with a lack of access to healthy food options, is putting Prince George's County children at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the organization Sugar Free Kids Maryland.
This bill is the 19th of its kind in the country, but it is the first to require both healthy food and beverage options.