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Lightfoot wants to crack down on childhood obesity

The mayor introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would prohibit Chicago restaurants from serving sugary drinks as the “default beverage” with kids meals.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday morning, Dec. 15, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Determined to reduce childhood obesity, Mayor Lori Lightfoot moved Wednesday to stop Chicago restaurants from automatically serving kids meals with sugary, high-calorie drinks.

At a City Council meeting, Lightfoot introduced an ordinance that would prohibit Chicago restaurants from serving or marketing pop and other sugary drinks as the “default beverage” with kids meals.

Parents would still be able to request sugary drinks for their children.

Instead, the “default” beverages on kids meals would be:

• Water or sparkling water or flavored water with “no added natural or artificial sweeteners”

• Nonfat or 1% dairy milk containing “no more than 130 calories per container or serving offered for sale.”

• 100% fruit or vegetable juice or juice combined with water or carbonated water with no added sweeteners in a serving size of no more than 8 ounces.

• “Nondairy milk alternatives” that meet National School Lunch Program standards, contain “no added natural or artificial sweeteners” and have “no more than 130 calories per container or serving for sale.”

Every beverage “listed or displayed on a restaurant menu or in-store advertisement for children’s meals” would have to be one of those “default” beverages, the ordinance states. City inspectors would make sure of it.

During a news conference after the Council meeting Wednesday, Lightfoot said her concern is that kids were “reflexively being given really high-caloric, very high sugary drinks” like soda pop and what she called “Slurpee-type” drinks.

“What we want is to give kids healthy things: water, milk, juice,” she said, denying the ordinance was a step toward a nanny state that denies consumer choice.

“If the parents decide they want something different, that’s their prerogative to be able to do that. [But] everybody knows we’ve got serious issues with childhood obesity. This is an appropriate step for us to take.”

The mayor was asked whether she can overcome the political muscle of a beverage industry that mobilized against and ultimately forced a repeal of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s pop tax.

“What you’re talking about is apples and oranges. That was a tax. And frankly, that wasn’t well thought out, wasn’t well rolled out and all sorts of people had problems with it,” the mayor said.

“This is saying, ‘When you’re serving a child, serve them something that’s healthy. Give ’em that as the first option.’ Pure and simple. I’m sure there will be some that oppose it. That’s OK. This is the right thing to do.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct who introduced the ordinance.