Aurora, CO

Aurora may regulate sugary drinks for kids

David Heitz

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Aurora may require restaurants to offer children non-sugary drinks as the default beverage on children’s menus.

An ordinance that has been debated by the City Council since 2019 is back on the agenda for Monday. It may be tabled.

The item is listed under ordinances for final consideration, but with a note that council member Angela Lawson has requested to table the matter. The item has been tabled before. This time Lawson intends to “work with stakeholders at looking at other options that could be implemented like an incentive/education program that would not have any enforcement provisions,” according to the agenda.

The city of Aurora is a home-rule city. Part of that designation means it can enact laws for the public health of the community.

Ordinances banning sugary drinks have been proposed or enacted in cities and states nationwide. Efforts to regulate the drinks, as Aurora is proposing, also have been successful.

How much sugar is too much sugar?

On one side of the debate is the medical community. Many organizations have called for the reduction of sugar in the diets of children.

In a letter to the City Council, Dr. Stephen Daniels of Children’s Hospital Colorado spells out the hazards of sugar drinks for kids. “No parent I see in clinic would dream of letting their child dump sugar into the drink that comes with their dinner, yet in one kids’ size 12-ounce cup of soda lies a hidden 10 teaspoons of sugar,” Daniels explains. “That’s the same amount of sugar found in three glazed doughnuts or nine chocolate chip cookies.

“And soda is not the only sugary drink to blame. In fact, the dangers of sugar are not limited to beverages sweetened with added sugars. Naturally sugary drinks, like 100 percent orange, apple, and grape juice, contain six teaspoons of natural sugar. That is only slightly less sugar content than flavored milk, which has seven teaspoons of natural and added sugar. At the end of the day, sugar is sugar and has the same detrimental effects on the body no matter the form it comes in when consumed in unhealthy amounts.”

The Colorado Restaurant Association wants to include juice drinks and flavored milk as default beverages on kids' menus because those are accepted in the schools. Other opponents of the legislation say it isn’t necessary. They say it’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their children.

Sugar consumption uneven across groups

But research shows ethnic and financial disparities exist. Communities of color and lower-income families are disproportionately affected by sugar intake. “Black and Latino Americans disproportionately experience high rates of obesity and chronic diseases compared to their white counterparts and in Colorado, 15 percent of children consume one or more sugary drinks per day while 23 percent of black children do and 18 percent of Latino children do,” according to the ordinance.

“Many infants consume milk and 100 percent juice before their first birthday, which can increase their risk for nutrient deficiencies, such as anemia,” according to a consensus statement by Healthy Eating Research. “Among ages 2 to 5, close to half (44 percent) consume a sugar-sweetened beverage daily, and the prevalence of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption increases throughout childhood. There are also significant differences in beverage intake by race/ethnicity and income groups in early childhood that need to be addressed.”

Finance division would enforce ordinance

The ordinance would fall under the city’s finance division. The department could levy fines for penalties, but the city’s preference would be to encourage voluntary cooperation. According to the ordinance, compliance after a violation could be proven with a picture of a corrected menu.

The city’s Business Advisory Board opposes the ordinance. “The board had numerous questions regarding how businesses could comply with the ordinance, the enforcement mechanism, outreach/feedback from the restaurant community, etc.,” the board wrote in a letter to the council.

“While appreciative of the overall goal of the ordinance, in general, the board felt this was a slippery slope that should not be achieved through a local ordinance, at least not in its current form and with the information currently provided.”

The board said outreach by the city had been insufficient. It asked in the letter that more affected licensees be surveyed.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

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