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Soft drinks barred from kids’ menus in New Orleans restaurants under this measure

Aubry Procell

New Orleans diners will have to go off-menu if they want to order soft drinks with kids’ meals, according to an ordinance pitched by the city health department and passed unanimously by the New Orleans City Council Thursday. The measure goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Restaurants will serve water, milk or fruit juice with kids’ meals by default, according to the Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. It’s part of an effort to give children healthier food and beverage options and to reduce rates of childhood obesity.

The ordinance was put to a vote by District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen, who described it as “...a very simple step to educate and nudge our families towards a healthier option.”

Nguyen pointed out that the obesity rate is 14% for the city’s kids between 2 to 4 years old. The American Heart Association supported the measure, saying it could help reduce that number.

The city health department will handle enforcement of the measure by reviewing the menus of new restaurants and by responding to 311 calls from customers of restaurants that fail to fall in line with the ordinance. Many national fast food chains have already adjusted their menus to accommodate laws in cities with similar measures, but New Orleans’ independent restaurants will have some work to do.

Penalties for violating the ordinance will range from a warning from the health department to a $200 fine. Nguyen said that the ordinance is more about “encouraging” restaurants to provide healthier options than penalizing them for failing to do so.

The restaurant and beverage industry has pushed back against the ordinance on the grounds that it will add to the burdens restaurants are already facing through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We appreciate the important issues of children’s health being raised,” Danielle Leger of the Louisiana Restaurant Association told the City Council. “However, we ask that you will instead adopt a resolution at this time.”

District A Councilmember Joe Giarusso stated concern that restaurants would circumvent the ordinance by adding dessert items to their kids’ menus, negating the health benefits of the measure, but ultimately approved the measure’s passage.

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.

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