Food Systems for Health

Assessing the Impact of Healthy Default Beverage Laws for Children’s Fast-Food Restaurant Meals

May 26, 2023

As part of a large-scale evaluation of healthy default beverage laws, Assistant Professor Alyssa Moran partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to conduct the first-ever evaluation of local healthy default beverage policies on children’s dietary behaviors. Healthy default beverage policies aim to make healthy choices easier for families by requiring restaurants to offer only milk, 100% juice, or water, instead of sugary drinks, with children’s meals. These policies have been passed in more than 20 jurisdictions but have not been evaluated for their impact on children’s dietary intake or long-term health outcomes. 

The researchers, funded by NIH and the Initiative, collected more than 1,000 customer receipts and dietary recalls from children dining at three fast-food restaurant chains. They also visited restaurants to assess policy implementation. Data were collected from two cities with a healthy default beverage policy (Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY) and a similar comparison city without a policy (Newark, NJ and surrounding counties) at two timepoints: 6 months before and 2 years after the policy effective date (April 2020).   

Through this project, the team developed valid and reliable tools for assessing healthy defaults in fast-food restaurants, which have been shared with other cities and states. The data collected for this project provide rich information about the dietary behaviors of young children in restaurant settings that can be used to measure the impact of other programs and policies, such as a Philadelphia ordinance requiring restaurants to display warning labels next to high-sodium items. 

Read more about this work in the Policy, Prevention and Practice Research Center Policy Brief, published in July 2022.  

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