Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to require healthy drink options with kids’ meals is already taking effect statewide thanks to new Illinois law

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When Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced her intent Wednesday to require Chicago restaurants to market only healthy drinks such as water, juice and milk with kids’ meals, she said the city was fighting back against childhood obesity.

“What’s happening, and I think the concern (the health department) had, was those meals, those kids’ meals, were reflexively being given really high-caloric, very high sugary drinks, like sodas ... like Slurpee-type drinks,” Lightfoot said. “What we want is to give kids healthy things.”

What she didn’t mention was that a state law designed to do the same thing will take effect in Chicago before the City Council has a chance to act on her proposal.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in August a bill worded almost exactly like the mayor’s proposed Chicago ordinance.

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The new state law will take effect Jan. 1.

It requires kids’ meals — defined in the law as “a combination of food items sold for a single price intended for consumption by children,” such as a McDonald’s Happy Meal — to feature a healthy drink such as water, milk or fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners in a container no bigger than eight ounces.

The person buying the meal can request that it include pop instead.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, who sponsored the bill and represents Chicago’s South Side in Springfield, said the new standards were an important step toward “ensuring health for our children and future generations.”

Illinois Beverage Association Executive Director Rob Nash noted Thursday that his group partnered with state lawmakers, the American Heart Association and restaurants to support that measure.

“The mayor’s ordinance simply reflects state law that has already passed with the industry’s support,” Nash said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Mayor Lightfoot’s team apparently was unaware of the coalition in support of the state policy when introducing their ordinance yesterday. Members of the Beverage Association are proud of their track record of offering low and no-calorie choices to consumers and support marketing guidelines for kids.”

The state law calls for local health departments to enforce the rules and issue warnings the first time they find a restaurant marketing pop, $25 fines for second offenses and $100 fines for subsequent offenses. Those citations may seem like a paltry deterrent, but Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance includes no fines for restaurants that don’t comply.

The soonest the City Council could enact its version of the healthy drink ordinance would be in late January, about three weeks after the state law takes effect.

Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella contributed.

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