The Aurora City Council pushed back Monday’s scheduled vote on an ordinance to make non-sugary drinks the default on kids’ menus, postponing the second and final vote to June 14.
The Healthy Kid Meal Ordinance, first introduced to Council committees in December 2019, passed its first vote 6-3 in March 2020 but requires a second vote before it can be implemented.
The sponsor of the ordinance, Councilwoman Angela Lawson, requested the postponement Monday.
Lawson has been postponing the vote since April, initially stating she wants to wait until the public can comment on the ordinance in-person. The Council has been meeting virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.
If passed, the ordinance would require Aurora restaurants to make non-sugary beverages — like milk or water — the default for pricing and advertising on kids’ meals.
The ordinance said the effort is “to protect the health and well-being of all children and families within the city, including those most impacted by adverse health conditions and disease.”
In addition to majority Council support, the ordinance was also applauded by the Tri-County Health Department and the Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
“While restaurants are offering healthier options these days, one challenge standing between families’ access to healthy meals is the abundance of sugary drink options,” said Dr. Stephen Daniels, pediatrician-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
“We believe in making sugary drinks the exception, not the rule; the option, not the default.”
According to the ordinance, 50% of 2- to 5-year-olds have at least one sugary drink per day and children who drink sugary drinks daily are 55% more likely to be overweight or obese. This increases the likelihood of children developing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Black and Latino populations also disproportionately experience high rates of obesity and chronic disease. In Aurora, 29% of residents are Latino and 16% are Black or African American.
“The added sugar in sugary drinks typically promoted in a kids’ meal exceeds the recommended amount of added sugars a child should have in an entire day,” the Tri-County Health Department said.
Despite the ordinance’s support among health professionals, businesses have stood firmly against it.
The Aurora Business Advisory Board announced its opposition to the ordinance in January, saying it would be inconvenient and expensive for restaurants to reprint menus. The board also claimed the ordinance would be difficult to enforce.
According to the ordinance, compliance would be monitored through regular health inspections by the Tri-County Health Department. Violators would have 60 days to correct or risk facing a fine of up to $500 or suspension of their business license.
The Colorado Restaurant Association has also opposed the ordinance, asking the Council to add 100% juice and low-fat chocolate milk as default beverage options since they are allowed in schools under USDA guidelines. That amendment failed.
Councilwoman Marsha Berzins, who voted against the ordinance in its first vote in March, said it is an issue of individual freedom.
“Parents have the right to choose what their children drink in restaurants,” Berzins said in March. “Education on nutrition and oral hygiene seem a much better way to keep our children healthy instead.”
The ordinance would still allow parents to order sweetened drinks like sodas for their children, but the drinks would not be displayed as part of a bundled kids’ meal.
The Aurora City Council will now take up the ordinance during its regular meeting on June 14. Lawson will have the opportunity to postpone the vote again during the meeting.