Aurora gives 1st OK to law making sweet kids-meal drinks an option, not the rule

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AURORA | Aurora lawmakers moved closer to putting the kibosh on kids meals in local restaurants automatically including soda pop or other sugary drinks.

After a long and caustic argument among city council members, the council voted 6-3 to move the bill to a second and final reading.

The proposed change in city law requires restaurants to offer children ordering kids meals water or milk. Sugary drinks could only be served by request. It makes Aurora the largest municipality in the state to impose such restrictions.

The proposal does not ban restaurants from serving sugary drinks to children, but they cannot be offered automatically with a food order, like most restaurants do now.

The measure split the council along lines of governmental overreach. Proponents, backed by a large number of health providers, say this simple change could have a big effect on the health of thousands of children.

Opponents say it’s invasive and inserts city council in the role of parents in choosing what children drink in restaurants.

“This is nannyism at it’s worse,” said Councilman Dave Gruber.

Councilman Curtis Gardner said pediatricians, dentists and other health providers that testified in favor the bill were “intellectually dishonest.” He said parents should choose children’s drinks and that the bill would have no beneficial health impact.

Bill sponsor Angela Lawson said she took exception to Gardner, Gruber and Mayor Mike Coffman putting out “misinformation” in social media posts and email letters to constituents.

Some city lawmakers dismissed worries about the change impacting Aurora restaurant sales.

“I don’t see people waking up and saying, ‘gosh darn it, I’m not going to eat in Aurora because they serve milk with their kids meals,” said Councilmember Allison Hiltz.

She said it’s a philosophical argument whether a local government should take on a such a role.

The measure won staunch support from a wide range of Aurora and Colorado health-care providers, including officials from Children’s Hospital Colorado, Tri-County Health Department and The Medical Center of Aurora.

Most criticism centered on ensuring that the cost of the measure not be burdensome to restaurant owners.

Chance Horiuchi, representing dozens of Aurora residents along the Havana corridor, asked city lawmakers to back off fines for not complying with changing menus under timelines spelled out in the bill. Horiuchi said the changing menus and websites can be expensive and cumbersome.

Health organizations say restaurants have been offering healthier options to children these days, but drinks are still a “challenge standing between families’ access to healthy meals,” said Dr. Stephen Daniels, the pediatrician in chief at Children’s Hospital of Colorado, in a letter of support.

“We believe in making sugary drinks the exception, not the rule; the option, not the default. Fast food, casual dining and sit-down restaurants should offer healthier drinks like water and unflavored milk (or non-dairy substitute) automatically for children. These are the healthiest options for kids based on currently available science,” he wrote. “Under this approach, parents or kids could still order any drink they like. At the same time, restaurants right here in Aurora would offer healthy alternatives as the automatic drink with kids’ meals, joining local governments nationwide in making this change to reduce kids’ consumption of liquefied sugar. Imagine the good we could do for the health of our little ones if this was the standard for all kids dining out.”