December 2020

Columbus City Council puts the brakes on sugary drinks on kids’ menus

Courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch
December 15, 2020
By Bill Bush

Kids’ meals served at Columbus restaurants must come with a “default” healthy beverage marked on menus, or restaurant-owners could pay a fine, according to an ordinance passed by the Columbus City Council on Monday.

“There’s clear evidence that reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages would improve kids’ health,” Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson said.

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Also, council approved $15.3 million in bond money to repair an aging hydroelectric plant at O’Shaughnessy Dam, near the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The dam’s hydro-generators, which began producing power in 1987 under a federal program to reduce reliance on foreign oil, had a 5-megawatt capacity — enough to power up to 5,000 homes — before falling into disrepair.

Dustin Holfinger, state government relations director with the American Heart Association in Ohio, said minority and low-income children are targeted by advertisers pushing sugary beverages, causing minority children to face higher obesity rates, leading to other health problems.

Even billboard advertising for sugary drinks is particularly prevalent in low-income neighborhoods, Holfinger told the council.

“Sadly, the marketing of these beverages seems to be working,” Holfinger said, noting that children consume, on average, 30 gallons of sugary drinks each year — enough to fill a bathtub — which is 10 times the recommended amount.

Restaurants in the city are now required to use water, low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice with no added sweetener as the drinks listed on kids’ menus. First-time violators get a warning. Repeat offenders face a $25 fine, which increases to $50 for subsequent violations. The fines are not to be punitive, but motivational, Tyson said.

If someone requests a substitute drink, it can be provided.

The O’Shaughnessy Dam was completed in 1925, but had hydro-generators added in 1987. But they fell into disrepair, and the city has been planning to replace and modernize them for several years. When opened, up to 10,000 gallons of water per minute from O’Shaughnessy Reservoir, which provides drinking water to Columbus, enter a tunnel below a gatehouse on the O’Shaughnessy Bridge, according to a 2006 city report.

After debris is screened out, the water drops into the turbines to produce power.

“The work will restore the facility to a fully working generation plant that will produce electrical power with zero carbon emissions,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown said.

In 2009, the city Department of Public Utilities said the plant hadn’t operated consistently for three years due to disrepair, and that its generation before that was sporadic depending on how much rain the area received.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Made permanent the city’s Commission on Black Girls. The Center for Healthy Families, assisted by Debora Myles Consulting, will run the commission under a $262,000 contract. The council created the 25-member commission in 2018 to study and assess the quality of life of Black girls in central Ohio, and one of the commission’s recommendations was that it be made permanent to carry out its programs.
• Entered into a $410,000 grant agreement with Columbus Urban League to provide low-income workers who contract COVID-19 one-time emergency financial relief to help them take time off of work, isolate, and recover before returning to their jobs. The Urban League estimates it will serve approximately 450 residents by the end of 2020, when an existing grant agreement that began in October concludes.
• Amended city code to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle, by saying race is inclusive of traits such as hair textures and styles, including braids, locs, cornrows, bantu knots, afros and twists, “whether or not hair is adorned by hair ornaments, beads, or headwraps.”

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