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Research on Restaurant Food and Beverages

Evaluation of Kids' Meals Healthy Beverage Default Policies

Columbus, Ohio

On June 17, 2021, Columbus, OH, implemented an ordinance requiring restaurants with kids’ meals to offer a healthy default beverage upon ordering. Healthy beverage standards are defined by the ordinance and allow default offerings across three beverage categories (unsweetened water, milk, and 100% fruit juice), provided offerings comply with all category-specific ordinance criteria.

Policy Provisions

  • Water may be served as plain, sparkling, or flavored options and may not contain added natural or artificial sweeteners,
  • Dairy milk may be served as non-fat (skim) or low-fat (1%) options and non-dairy milk alternatives may be served if contents are ≤ 150 calories/serving or container as offered for sale,
  • 100% fruit juice, or juice concentrate reconstituted with water, may be served provided it contains no added sweeteners and is sold in a serving size ≤ 8 oz.

Research

  • Team: Evaluation led by UIC research team.
  • Research design and objective: Difference-in-differences pre-post intervention-comparison site research design to assess changes in default kids’ meal beverage offerings and restaurant compliance with the policy.
  • Methods: Online menu data were collected via restaurant websites and third-party ordering platforms across 10 fast-food restaurant chains in both intervention and comparison sites. Audits were designed to capture “real-time” menu offerings and were conducted at baseline (2 weeks pre-implementation) and follow-up (4 months post-implementation).

Resources

State of Illinois

On January 1, 2022, Illinois implemented a provision, built into an existing Act, requiring restaurants with kids’ meals to offer a healthy default beverage upon ordering. Healthy beverage standards are specified within the Act and allow beverages across four categories, including water, dairy milk, nondairy milk, and 100% juice.

Policy Provisions

  • Healthy Beverage Defaults
    • Water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners may be served in plain, sparkling, or flavored options,
    • Dairy milk may be served in non-fat (skim) or low-fat (1%) options with ≤130 calories/container or serving as offered for sale,
    • Nondairy milk alternatives may be served provided offerings contain no added natural or artificial sweeteners, are ≤130 calories/container or serving as offered for sale and meet National School Lunch Program standards,
    • 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or juice concentrate reconstituted with plain or carbonated water, may be served provided it contains no added sweeteners and is sold in a serving size ≤ 8 oz.
  • Presentation of Kids’ Meals
    • Kids’ meal listings and displays in menus or in-store advertisements may only include policy-compliant beverages.

Research

  • Team: Evaluation led by UIC research team.
  • Research design and objective: Difference-in-differences pre-post intervention-comparison site research design to assess changes in default kids’ meal beverage offerings and restaurant compliance with the policy.
  • Methods: Onsite (in-person) and online audits were conducted across 12 fast-food restaurant chains in both intervention and comparison sites. Onsite audits are designed to capture restaurant features, food and beverage products, meal offerings, and advertisements across restaurant interior (e.g., cashiers, menu boards, and kiosks) and exterior data sources (e.g., drive-through menu boards). Online audits are designed to capture menu offerings in “real-time” via restaurant websites and applications and third-party ordering platforms. Data were collected at baseline (4 weeks prior to Nov. 25, 2021) and will be collected at follow-up (4 months post-implementation).

Resources

  • Tools
    • Forthcoming— Restaurant Healthy Beverage Default Audits
  • Research Briefs
    • Forthcoming