Capitol Alert

Kids’ meals would have to be marketed with water or milk under California bill

A Happy Meal featuring non-fat chocolate milk and a cheeseburger with fries, are arranged for a photo at a McDonald’s restaurant Wednesday in Brandon, Miss.
A Happy Meal featuring non-fat chocolate milk and a cheeseburger with fries, are arranged for a photo at a McDonald’s restaurant Wednesday in Brandon, Miss. AP

Would you like water or milk with that?

In an effort to combat childhood obesity and other diseases linked to sugar consumption, California may soon require restaurants to serve water or unflavored milk as the default beverage for children’s meals that pair a food item with a drink.

Senate Bill 1192, which passed the Assembly on Thursday, would allow customers to specifically order alternatives, such as soda or juice. The bill is silent on whether the restaurant would have to change extra for the substitute.

“Kids’ meals shouldn’t come with a side order of diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who carried a cup with nine packets of sugar draped over the side to demonstrate how much sugar is in a small soda.

Some restaurants have already voluntarily taken similar steps to cut down on the calorie counts of their offerings. McDonald’s announced nearly five years ago that it would stop marketing soft drinks as a beverage option in its Happy Meal for kids, though they are still available upon request; in February, it pulled chocolate milk from the menu as well.

Several Republican members criticized SB 1192 for allowing the government to step in and take over parents’ role and for putting further burdens on small businesses.

“Seriously, like, what’s next?” Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, asked. “Are we going to insist that you have to have kale in your salad unless you specifically ask otherwise?”

The measure now returns to the Senate, where it was overwhelmingly approved in May, for a final vote before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

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