California restaurants will no longer be allowed to offer soda as a standard component of kids meals under legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, marking another regulatory first for the state.
The law specifies that the included beverage be plain water, sparkling water, flavored water, milk or a nondairy milk substitute such as soy milk. However, a restaurant can replace one of those standard choices for a soda upon request.
The measure applies to both diet and sugar-sweetened sodas.
Restaurants that fail to comply will be given a warning. Places that violate the law a second time will be subject to a fine of $250, and a penalty of $300 for a third violation. The bill specifies that enforcement will come from local authorities.
The measure is intended to combat childhood obesity. According to 2015 research cited by lawmakers, 13.7% of California children ages 5 or younger are overweight or obese, and 16% of youngsters ages 6 to 11 fall within those categories.
Health advocates have been looking for legislative ways to discourage the consumption of sugary beverages by children. Among the options that have been explored in California is a tax on sugar-sweetened soda, a measure that was adopted in the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco. Under intense lobbying, the California legislature opted not to pursue a statewide tax. Earlier this year, the state passed a law that prohibits other jurisdictions from enacting a soft drink tax.
A law similar to California’s new rule on kids meals went into effect in Baltimore in July. The East Coast city is believed to be the largest jurisdiction to prohibit the automatic inclusion of sugared sodas. But no state had yet adopted such a measure.
A number of restaurant chains have already dropped sugary soda as the default option in their kids' meals.
California is the nation’s largest restaurant market.