ELLICOTT CITY, MD -- Howard County Executive Ken Ulman signed an executive order to ban the sale of high-sugar drinks in parks, libraries and other county properties, and at county-sponsored events. He announced the ban at the kickoff of the Howard County Unsweetened campaign at a local school, where officials dumped 9.6 tons of sand, representing the amount of sugar students would consume if each drank one 12-fl.oz. soda a day for a year.
Under Ulman's order, all beverages served or sold by county departments must meet the new standards. They require that sweetened beverages have fewer than 5 calories per serving. Fruit and vegetable beverages must contain 100% juice, with fewer than 120 calories in an 8-fl.oz. serving. Milk and soy drinks can only be unflavored, low-fat or nonfat and contain less than 22 grams of sugar per 8-fl.oz. serving. Drinks with artificial sweeteners must be limited to one-quarter of the total beverage offerings.
The order instructs county departments to begin the transition immediately, but only to "the extent possible under existing contracts." It also requires the county health department to review the beverage standards at least every three years.
The ban does not apply to county schools. However, the Board of Education is reportedly revising the school system's wellness policy to "reflect the commitment to wellness throughout the county."
"Healthier beverage choices mean better health for all of us," said Ulman. "Making it easier for parents and kids to make those healthier choices is at the heart of my executive order and the Howard County Unsweetened campaign."
The Howard County Unsweetened campaign is sponsored by the Horizon Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to improving the health and wellness county residents. A centerpiece of the campaign is the Better Beverage Finder, an online tool that enables parents and kids to identify beverages low in added sugar and to locate nearby stores where they are available in Howard County.
It profiles a wide array of specific drinks and offers guidance on whether they are considered to be "healthy" choices. The tool was created with guidance from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and will be mobile-friendly in the coming weeks.
"Our goal is as simple as it is positive: To make it easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices," said Nicolette Highsmith Vernick, president and chief executive of the Horizon Foundation.
One in four Maryland children is overweight or obese, and sugary drinks are the No. 1 source of empty calories in children's diets, according to the Horizon Foundation.
A second major thrust of the campaign is the Better Choices Coalition of Howard County, a broad-based group of organizations that will be working to fill the county's public spaces with better drink choices.