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Healthier Drink Options Head to the Hill in Maryland


At least one Leader is especially eager for this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly: There will be votes on two bills aimed at giving residents more access to healthier drink options.

The first proposed bill would remove the sales tax on bottled water, which is currently taxed at the same rate as sugary drinks. The second bill would require restaurants that offer children’s menus to serve only water, low-fat milk or 100 percent juice as part of the bundled kids’ meal price—though parents would still be able to choose another option if they’d prefer.

According to Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a supporter of these bills, the state is one of only four that taxes bottled water at a higher rate than other essential groceries such as eggs, bread and milk. The organization is now on a mission to educate the state legislature on the fact that water is, in fact, also essential to human life. Hearings on this bill have already been heard in the House, and are scheduled to take place in the Senate on Thursday, March 12.

Though tap water is preferable to bottled water, Robi Rawl, a Leader and executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, recognizes that in some cases tap water is often perceived to be unsafe due to an older infrastructure and potential for lead in the pipes.

“For Marylanders that are dependent on bottled water, this would be an opportunity for them to choose the healthy option rather than a sugary drink,” Rawl said. (You can read more about this legislation in their recent Baltimore Sun op-ed here.)

The second bill, which would require kids meals to be served with only water, low-fat milk or 100 percent juice by default, was discussed in House and Senate committee hearings in February.

Rawl noted that currently, nearly 80 percent of restaurants offer sugary drinks as a default and that often, parents have to pay extra for a healthier drink. Also, with this proposed bill, parents would still have the option to choose a drink other than the healthy default.

“This bill puts parents back in control of their children’s food choices,” Rawl said.

Support for these two pieces of legislation is consistent across the state: A poll conducted by OpinionWorks in 2014 shows an 80 percent support rate among Maryland voters for the Water Affordability Act. A similar poll from OpinionWorks shows that nearly 70 percent of Marylanders (and 75 percent of Maryland parents) support legislation that limits the types of default beverages offered with kids meals to only healthy options.

“The support is really astounding,” Rawl said.

Last session, Sugar Free Kids Maryland saw a legislative victory for children in childcare centers. These centers in Maryland are now required to provide healthier drinks to children, give better support for mothers who are breastfeeding, and reduce non-educational screen time.

“There is no magic bullet to cure childhood obesity, but these bills are a good first step that the legislature has the power to make,” said Rawl.