New law demands that children’s meals drop soda in favor of water or unflavored milk

Unhappy Meal?

California is known for its aggressive regulatory posture when it comes to consumer health, and a recent bill that has been presented for Gov. Brown’s signature is no exception. The opening paragraphs of the bill are festooned with a litany of sobering facts: Skyrocketing obesity rates. The transference of childhood obesity to adult victims. Children getting 25 percent of their calories from fast food. And a list of illnesses associated with obesity, from type 2 diabetes to depression. The governor has until Sept. 30 to sign the law.

SB-1192, first introduced in February 2018, requires that any restaurant that offers children’s meals include only water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners or unflavored milk (including milk alternatives) as the default beverage in the meal. Additionally, in-store display boards and menus advertising children’s meals with beverages will need to list or display the new defaults. Consumers can request the usual soft drink if they wish, but if they don’t remember to do so, they’ll get the default.

Many restaurant chains had already made similar changes prior to the bill, and the penalties – a warning on the first incident, $250 on the second and $500 for each violation thereafter, with no more than one violation per inspection visit – may be too low to have as significant an impact as the bill’s drafters intended. Of course, this is California, so a violation of this law could be the basis for a class action under California Business and Professions Code 17200, which allows the violation of any other law to be the basis for an unfair practices claim under 17200. 

The Takeaway

Regardless of enforcement or potential class action litigation, as with many matters related to weight loss, it may be habit that will affect the most change. Assuming the governor signs the bill, California kids will automatically receive healthier beverages with their beloved special meals.