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Baltimore Bans Sodas, Sugary Drinks on Kids' Menus

'Taking out empty calories from sugary drinks is a powerful lifestyle change we can make to help our children to get and stay healthy,' according to Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. 'This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice.' The law to which Dr. Wen is referring is Baltimore's new ordinance that prohibits sodas and sugary drinks from appearing on kids' menus in city restaurants.

Children can still consume sodas under the new law, but only if parents order it for them. Similar laws in other cities and states have had a mixed reception, legally speaking. So, will Baltimore's soda ban stick?

Menu Mandates

Instead of soda, the default beverages for kids' meals must be milk, 100 percent fruit juices, water, and flavored or sparkling water without added sweeteners. Baltimore eateries face a $100 fine if they fail to comply with the ordinance.

One in three school-aged kids in Baltimore is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and Sugar Free Kids Maryland reports that one in four of the city's children drink at least one soda each day. Overconsumption of sugary drinks has been cited as a key factor in the development of chronic diseases like diabetes.

Soda and Sugar Statutes

While seven California cities and Lafayette, Colorado, have enacted similar soda bans, other efforts to curb sugary drink intake have been less successful. New York City's ban on supersized sugary drinks, which prohibited large sodas from being sold in restaurants, fast food joints, and movie theaters, was struck down as unconstitutional by a state appellate court in 2013.

The court found that the New York City Board of Health had overreached in its official capacity by limiting sugary drinks to 16 ounces. While the Board can issue regulations to promote the general health concerns, the court felt the drink ban was too much like a law, the creation of which is reserved for the legislature.

Likewise, San Francisco's ordinance requiring warning labels on soda advertisements was struck down last year, with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling the ordinance violated beverage groups' rights to commercial speech. "[T]he ordinance is not purely factual and uncontroversial and is unduly burdensome," the court opined, and therefore "it offends the Associations' First Amendment rights by chilling protected commercial speech."

Neither argument appears to apply to Baltimore's ordinance, so city restaurants might need to get on board.

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