Longmont poised to set a national standard with proposed healthy drinks in children’s meals ordinance


Welcome, January! It’s the quintessential fresh start for setting our sights on new, or refreshed, goals. With the season of wrapping and unwrapping all wrapped up, boxes flat-packed and boxed away, here is a perfect opportunity to shift the focus back to clean, healthy living.

For most of us, that means getting back on track with diet, as whole families. Good news, we’ve got help. Our Longmont community-at-large is here to support healthy choices, year-round.

Early this year, Longmont City Council will meet to deliberate and vote on a proposed healthy children’s meal ordinance that would ensure healthy beverages such as water and plain milk are the first choice available as part of children’s meals in restaurants. If adopted, the policy will position Longmont as a national leader in supporting children’s health.

“We’ve added language that specifically references servers and their role in encouraging healthy beverages,” says Tessa Hale, Healthy Beverage and Food Advisor at Boulder County Public Health and a leader of the Healthy Longmont Coalition which has been the driving force behind the proposed ordinance. “That inclusion is a first, and will make this the best strongest policy of its kind in the nation.”

Composed of committed community members and representatives of numerous organizations including the American Heart Association, Dental Aid, Salud Family Health Centers, Ollin Farms and more, the Healthy Longmont Coalition formally began working together in September of 2018. Prior to that time, a growing movement was building through numerous grassroots efforts, aimed at providing education for children and families and developing an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice. “We aren’t about eliminating choice,” Hale says, emphasizing that parents will continue to have a full menu to choose from. “This is about empowering healthy choices for life through a supportive environment.”

We know what you’re thinking: isn’t Boulder County the healthiest county in the healthiest state? The truth is, despite our active, healthy image, we are in the midst of a growing Public Health crisis. In fact, on October 15, 2019, Boulder County Board of Health passed a resolution declaring children experiencing overweight and obesity an epidemic. “Children in my son and daughter’s generation—those born after 2000—have a one-in-three chance of developing type 2 diabetes,” says Christina Edstrom, co-founder of St. Vrain Healthy Kids, a parent group which has worked closely with schools and the community over the past several years to promote children’s health. “Shockingly, while Colorado ranks number one for having for having the lowest rates of obesity and overweight for adults, we’re ranked thirteen in the nation for children. Even within Colorado, 13 counties are ahead of ours for having lower rates of childhood obesity.”

With such a healthy ethos, how can childhood obesity and overweight be reaching such disturbing proportions? It doesn’t all come down to dancing sugarplums. When it comes to healthy habits, the most earnest efforts can be challenged by the environment throughout the year. One big culprit: the prevalence of sugary drinks served to children. “We see the impact of sugary drink consumption on children in our clinics on a daily basis,” says Ernest Duff, Executive Director of Dental Aid. “Tooth decay is the most common disease of childhood: five times more common than asthma. The impact is such that, given years of evidenced-based research revealing the negative outcome of sugary drinks, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry have developed new guidelines recommending that children five and under should only be drinking water and unflavored milk.”

“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy environment,” says Michael Beer, Medical Director at Longmont Salud Family Health Center. “I’m not saying we should ban sugary drinks outright. But make them the exception, not the rule. Sugary drinks have no health benefits. They are candy in a cup, leading our kids on the path to high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are on the rise in children nationwide. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Indeed, simple steps can yield significant progress. Making nourishing drink options the automatic choice will help normalize healthy behaviors for children in Longmont, Duff says. Local restauranteurs Sean and Rebecca Gafner, owners of Longmont restaurants Smokin’ Bowls, Jefes, and The Roost, agree. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming council vote, you won’t find sugary beverages served as part of their children’s meals. “As parents of four and owners of three restaurants, we want family meals to be positive experiences for all,” says Sean. “Parents tell us they like having more healthy options available. That’s why we made a change on our kids’ menu to offer water and milk.” Since making the changes, Gafner adds, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “We recognize that parents want to be the decision-makers for what their kids eat and drink, and we want to support their efforts to make healthy choices,” he says. “If a parent chooses to give a child a sugary drink, we want that to be a conscious decision and not in response to the only options they see on our menu.”

Want to learn more, and show support? The Healthy Longmont Coalition is hosting Roundtable presentation moderated by Boulder County Farmers Markets Executive Director Brian Coppom at The Roost on January 15, at 2 p.m. At the event, which is expected to last approximately one hour, local experts including Beer, Edstrom and others will offer an overview of the benefits this small switch will have on the greater good of the community in Longmont and across Northern Colorado. Open dialogue will be encouraged. Food and beverages (healthy, of course!) will be provided.

“We’re so grateful the Longmont community is becoming more and more aware of the dangers of sugary beverages,” says Jodie Popma, co-founder with Edstrom of St. Vrain Healthy Kids. “The proposed changes to children’s menus is a simple, cost-neutral, and truly effective way of supporting children’s health, and the health of the whole community, today and in the future.”