May 25, 2022

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Health officials, civic groups support ‘healthy meal’ menu mandate for kids

Health advocates and civil rights leaders on Tuesday lauded a bill that proposes a “healthy meal” mandate for Montgomery County restaurants, requiring at least one nutritious menu option for children.

Stuart Berlow, representing the American Heart Association, urged County Council members to support the bill and consider strengthening it, to require restaurants and other establishments to offer kids a range of healthy options.

“These are based on the best available science and data that we have, to provide the healthiest choices for kids in the county. … It’s simply an opportunity to make healthier options more available, and make it easier,” Berlow said.

County Council Member Craig Rice is the lead sponsor of the bill. The co-sponsors are County Council President Gabe Albornoz and Council Members Will Jawando, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker.

A public hearing was held on Tuesday to hear feedback from the community.

Six people supported the bill, arguing that it would provide more access for busy families looking for something healthy for their children to eat. One person testified against, saying it would be costly for small restaurant owners, and that obesity was rising despite more government regulation. 

Under the bill, restaurants and other food-service businesses would be required to offer at least one meal that has less than:

  • 600 calories
  • 700 milligrams of sodium
  • 35% of calories from total sugars 
  • 35% of calories from fat
  • 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • 0.5 grams of trans fat

It also must include either water with no added sugar; 8 ounces or less of nonfat or 1% milk or a daily equivalent; or 6 ounces or less of fruit or vegetable juice, or a fruit-vegetable juice combo.

Other requirements include: 

  • A half-cup or more of unfried fruit or unfried vegetables, excluding  juice, condiments, or spreads
  • A whole grain product consisting of, by weight, 51% or more of whole grain ingredients
  • A lean protein, which could be: 1 ounce or more of meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, or peas; an egg; half a cup of nonfat or 1% milk or low-fat yogurt, or 1 ounce of reduced fat cheese; or a plant-based alternative with calcium or vitamin D

Andres Garcia was the lone resident to testify against the bill. He said it would place another burden and “be another nail in the coffin for family-owned restaurants” who have already suffered during the pandemic.

If the County Council passes the bill and the county executive signs it, restaurants or similar businesses that don’t comply would be cited for a Class A violation. They would face an initial fine of up to $500, then up to a $750 fine for repeat offenses.

Multiple people who testified Tuesday said the proposal would give busy families options to help their kids eat healthier when dining out — a more common practice as people’s lives have gotten busier. 

Robin Williams and Willie Flowers, both representing the NAACP in Maryland, said the legislation would help minority families, who historically have dealt with higher childhood obesity rates due to not having enough healthy options when dining out.

Yolandra Hancock, a local pediatrician, said the bill helps combat that trend. 

“It’s our collective responsibility as parents, policymakers and community members, inclusive of small and large food establishments, to create the healthiest environment possible, so that each of our children can reach their full health potential, as we come out of this pandemic,” Hancock said.

The legislation heads to the council’s Health and Human Services committee for review.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]

Health officials, civic groups support ‘healthy meal’ menu mandate for kids