It’s no secret that today’s families are busier than ever. Parents often juggle work along with kids’ school schedules, play dates and extracurricular activities. The result? More meals are eaten on the go.

In fact, more than half of food expenditures in the United States are spent outside of the home, and children get an average of 25% of their calories from restaurant foods and beverages, according to Public Health Advocates.

The shift away from home-cooked meals may mean higher consumption of calories and sugary drinks, as well as challenges in accessing healthy foods. But new California legislation makes consuming healthy drink options easier for kids and families while eating on the go.

The Healthy-By-Default Kids’ Meal Drinks bill (SB 1192), which was signed into California law in September 2018, makes healthy beverages — water, sparking water, flavored water with no added sweeteners and milk—the default beverages for children’s meals at restaurants.

While families can still ask for beverages such as soft drinks, lemonade and fruit-flavored juices, the law nudges children and families to make healthy choices, which is good news for the dairy community and public health. The law will go into effect in January 2019 and comes at an important time when diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease remain critical public health concerns.


Milk offers a complete package of nutrients

Dairy Council of California believes reversing childhood obesity is critical to creating healthy communities, and dairy foods are essential to healthy eating patterns. In fact, no other single food or beverage provides the same irreplaceable package of nutrients, with its unique interactions, as milk.

Milk’s nutritional portfolio includes calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. These nutrients work together to provide multiple health benefits, including optimal growth and development in children and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. And like water, milk is a good source of hydration.

Poor eating habits increase the risk of developing obesity and other chronic diseases such as heart disease, which, when widespread across our communities, leads to rising health care costs. Helping children develop healthy eating patterns early on — ensuring they consume recommended amounts of milk and dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains — promotes an important behavior that can last a lifetime. So, how do we create this kind of change and truly elevate health?

SB 1192 is part of the solution, as it will help children and their families see healthy options as the norm, not the exception. But true change requires multilevel interventions.


Nutrition education requires multiple touch points to inspire change

Dairy Council of California was built on a foundation of nutrition education; when the organization started nearly 100 years ago, it partnered primarily with California schools. While in-classroom nutrition education continues to be the backbone of the council, we’re focused on supporting numerous learning opportunities, forming collaborations and supporting multilevel health interventions. This means reaching kids and families at schools, in homes, at stores, in medical offices, through smartphones and — as SB 1192 points out — at restaurants.

By reaching audiences via multiple touch points, nutrition education becomes more ingrained, and making healthy choices becomes easier. This sentiment was recently echoed in a report titled “The State of Obesity 2018: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” issued by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

According to the report, “In response to ongoing high levels of obesity, the United States must be bold enough to find and test new strategies … this means communities, governments and other institutions need to work across sectors and levels to support policies, practices and programs that work. Over time, these investments can pay off — in lives saved and in reduced healthcare costs.”

At Dairy Council of California, we proactively educate our partners, both in the dairy community and in public health, on current research regarding the health benefits of milk and dairy foods. While we value our unique role, all dairy producers and processors can play a role in elevating the health of children and families by supporting initiatives that make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Advocate for food access. Serve as a champion for nutrition education. Educate others about the role of dairy in healthy eating patterns. As demonstrated with SB 1192, collaboration across all sectors is vital to ensuring children are supported to grow healthfully.

Today, the legislation applies to only California, which often serves as a leader in health and wellness strategies. Working together, the dairy community and others can have impact in both the Golden State and beyond.