Maryland Bills Would Improve Nutritional Quality of Kids' Meals, Protect Kids from Dangerous Energy Drinks

March 7, 2014

A bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly would improve the nutritional quality of children's meals at fast-food and other restaurants in the state by making healthy beverages the default choice. Under the legislation, HB 1255, parents could still order sodas and other sugar drinks, but restaurants would no longer bundle them in meals intended for kids. That's already the policy at Subway, Chipotle, Arby's, and Panera—and even McDonald's announced that by 2015 soda will no longer be the default beverage in Happy Meals.

"Soda and other sugar drinks are the single largest source of calories in children's diets," said Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy associate Kate M. Klimczak, who will testify today in favor of the bill before the House of Delegates' Economic Matters Committee. "With one in three children overweight or obese, it makes no sense to automatically include unhealthy beverages in kids' meals."

That bill is sponsored by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D) and has a companion bill in the Senate spearheaded by Senator Catherine Pugh (D).

Another bill supported by CSPI, HB 1273, would prohibit the sale of energy drinks to children under age 18. Drinks such as Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, and 5-hour Energy shots combine caffeine with other ingredients such as taurine, guarana, ginseng, or other substances. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating a number of adverse reactions to the drinks, including heart attacks, convulsions, at least one spontaneous miscarriage, and 29 deaths, including that of a 14-year-old Maryland girl. The girl, Anais Fournier of Hagerstown, died in 2012 after drinking two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks. HB 1273 is sponsored by Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais.

"Unlike coffee and tea, these energy drink formulations have only been in the food supply since 2004," said CSPI chief regulatory affairs attorney Laura MacCleery, who is also testifying before the Economic Matters Committee. "Adults may be willing to tolerate the risks, but Maryland children should not be sold a product under investigation and reportedly linked to heart attacks, convulsions, and deaths."

Besides the FDA investigation, energy drinks are also drawing congressional scrutiny from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).


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