July 19 (UPI) -- Baltimore became the first large city in the United States to ban sugary drinks from children's menus after a new law took effect Thursday.
The Healthy Beverages for Children's Meals law makes water, milk and fruit juice the default beverage options for children at city restaurants. Officials said in a statement the change is an effort to improve child health in a city where one of every three children are classified obese.
"The science is clear: One of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is sugary drinks, and childhood obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, and early death," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. "Taking out empty calories from sugary drinks is a powerful lifestyle change we can make to help our children to get and stay healthy.
"This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice."
Parents can still order a sugary drink for their child, but restaurants are required by the new law to offer an alternative or face a $100 fine.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland opposed the bill, saying it could hurt restaurant profits, CNN reported.
"Some quick-service/limited-service restaurants may be forced to use single-servings of water, milk or juice for children's meals, which often cost more per serving than fountain drinks," said Melvin R. Thompson, the association's senior vice president of government affairs and public policy. "The increased cost could cause some restaurants to either increase the price of children's meals or sell beverages separately.
"Such a change in the bundled price, or selling beverages separately, may reflect negatively on restaurants if customers perceive a decrease in the value of children's meal pricing."
In California, seven cities and Santa Clara County and Lafayette, Colo., also require restaurants to offer water, milk, or juice for children.