Restaurant Chains Urged to Dump Soda From Kids' Menus

McDonald’s Agreed to Drop Soda from Happy Meal Menus in 2013


Wendy's, Burger King, and other restaurant chains should remove soda and other sugar drinks from their children's menus, according to more than 100 national and local health organizations and more than 60 nutrition experts. Those drinks promote obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, according to the experts, who today wrote to 23 of the largest restaurant chains that offer such drinks with kids' meals.

"With one in three children overweight or obese in the United States, it no longer makes sense to include sugary beverages in restaurant meals for young children," according to the letter. The groups cited research published in the Lancet that found that drinking just one additional sugar drink every day increases a child's chances of becoming obese by 60 percent.

McDonald's announced last fall that it will stop listing soda as an option on menu boards for its famed Happy Meals, joining Subway, Chipotle, Arby's, and Panera, which all also exclude sugar drinks from kids' meals. McDonald's commitment goes into full effect next year.

"Disease-promoting beverages like Coca-Cola and Pepsi never should have become the default restaurant beverage for adults, let alone children," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "But when it comes to children, restaurant chains must exercise some corporate responsibility. Some already have, but the rest should follow suit."

The National Restaurant Association runs Kids LiveWell, a program which has nutrition guidelines for member companies' kids' meals. But a 2013 CSPI study found that 91 percent of kids' meals at America's top chains don't even meet the industry's own voluntary guidelines. And those guidelines are silent on the question of sugar drinks. At least two local jurisdictions, California's Santa Clara County and San Francisco, have passed ordinances setting nutrition standards that exclude sugar drinks from children's meals that come with toys.

Besides CSPI, the letters to the restaurant chains were signed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, The California Endowment, Consumer Federation of America,, and National Council of La Raza. Prominent nutrition authorities include Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, David Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Deborah Cohen of the RAND Corporation, JoAnn Manson of Harvard University, Marion Nestle of New York University, and Walter Willett of Harvard University.

"Parents face an enormous uphill battle when it comes to teaching their kids about nutrition and feeding them a healthy diet," said executive director and CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. "Restaurant chains that make a sugar drink the default drink make matters so much worse. It's time for Wendy's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Applebee's to follow McDonald's lead."

Besides calling on restaurant chains to exclude soda from kids' meals, CSPI has urged celebrities, especially celebrities popular with children, not to endorse sugar drinks. In 2012, the group had a viral hit with The Real Bears, an animated short film featuring an original song by Jason Mraz that shows, in fairly graphic form, the debilitating effects of excess soda consumption.

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