Prince George’s County Council member Sydney Harrison assessed some of the jurisdiction’s health data and expressed his dissatisfaction.

He said about 55% of the businesses in the majority-Black county are fast-food restaurants. In Harrison’s district, which encompasses southern Prince George’s, the county health department noted it has recorded the highest number of cardiovascular diseases and babies with low birth weights in the county.

To prevent children from becoming overweight or obese, proposed legislation sponsored by Harrison (D-District 9) of Upper Marlboro calls for all food service facilities to provide healthier options for meals and drinks.

The issue will be discussed Tuesday during a virtual public hearing on the bill, which Harrison and other supporters call “generational.”

“Being a low-birth rate baby myself with about a 5% chance of survival … I had all sorts of ailments when I was born,” Harrison said. “We’ve got to create the opportunity where we show diversity within our menu options that create the healthier option as the easy choice.”

According to the legislation, children’s meals would contain no more than 600 calories or 770 milligrams of sodium, and only up to 35% of its calories would be from total sugars. A specific protein could be two ounces of meat, one ounce of nuts, seeds, dry beans or peas, or one egg.

A drink with the meal would be water, sparkling or flavored water, nonfat or 1% milk, or 100% fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners in a serving size no more than eight ounces. A healthy meal for children would automatically be placed on the menu.

However, an establishment can still sell sodas and french fries to children if a customer requests those items.

If approved, the policy for restaurants to provide children healthy options as the standard for both and drink would be the most comprehensive such mandate in the nation, said Federico Asch, a cardiologist and member of the American Heart Association’s Greater Washington Region board of directors.

To illustrate the harmful effects of sugar, Asch offered the example that a 20-ounce can of soda has about as much sugar as 18 cookies or six glazed doughnuts.

“What we are trying to push in P.G. County is a good, healthy policy,” he said. “We are super happy and proud P.G. County is considering this. As this moves forward, other counties and cities and even states would follow this.”

Other cities and states passed health reform laws to make water and milk as default beverages on children’s menus.

Baltimore in 2018 became the first East Coast city to make those beverages and 100% fruit juice default beverages in all restaurants.

Sara Ribakove, policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in northwest D.C., said the Prince George’s bill would be implemented in a multi-tier approach.

A healthy default beverage would be offered in years one and two, a healthy side dish on all children’s meals in years two and three, at least one healthy children’s meal in year four and then full implementation in the fifth year.

“It would be great if restaurants would implement it sooner, but we want to make sure to allow for adequate time for restaurants that need more time,” Ribakove said.

In the meantime, some families continue to struggle to purchase produce during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One way they can receive fruit and vegetables are during free giveaways offered by government officials, church leaders and nonprofit organizations.

James Tate, 41, of Suitland, who teaches the weekly “Body by Christ” health class at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, said residents with Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards could visit local farmer markets. If a person spends $20, they receive $40 worth of items.

“If there’s a family of five or a family of six … and they have a limited budget for food, at least [the Prince George’s] bill provides a healthier option,” said Tate, who runs his own businesses called Beyond W8 Loss and Total Wellness Center. “It is generational. With establishments having one healthy option, maybe one day that kid chooses apples instead of French fries. It’s all about taking those small steps toward better health.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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