On the menu: Healthier drinks for keiki

Come Jan. 1, restaurants will be required to offer healthier default drink options with keiki meals.

Senate Bill 549, which was signed into law by Gov. David Ige this summer, requires restaurants to offer healthy beverages as a default choice for drinks automatically included as part of a children’s meal.

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Those beverages can include water; sparkling water or flavored water with no added sugar, corn syrup or other natural or artificial sweeteners; 8 ounces or less of unflavored nonfat or 1% dairy milk or a nutritionally equivalent nondairy beverage; and 8 ounces or less of 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or juice diluted with water or carbonated water, with no added sweeteners.

According to the legislation, Hawaii has experienced an unprecedented increase in obesity and chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease and tooth decay throughout the past 30 years, and in 2013 Hawaii spent an estimated $470 million on obesity-related medical costs.

Soda and other sugary drinks are the largest source of excess sugar in the American diet, and such beverages contribute to the ongoing obesity epidemic and typically do not provide any nutritional benefit.

Restaurants are not prohibited from selling, or a customer from purchasing, an alternative beverage if requested by the customer.

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While much testimony submitted during the legislative process this year supported the measure, a legislative lead for the Hawaii Restaurant Association said the organization thought the legislation might not be necessary and that most major quick-service restaurants have been doing this practice since 2015, the Tribune-Herald reported in June.

The bill was co-sponsored by Big Island Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who told the Tribune-Herald in June that she supported the measure because of the concern regarding obesity.

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