Ordinance requires retailers to stock healthier checkout items

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Jasmany Flores/Staff
During its meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council unanimously approved the Healthy Checkout Ordinance, which will require large retailers to stock healthier food options at their checkout counters. The ordinance is the first of its kind in the nation and aims to improve public health in the city.

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Berkeley City Council unanimously passed an ordinance at its meeting Tuesday that requires large food retailers to stock only healthy food and drink options in their checkout aisles, making Berkeley the first city in the nation to pass such a law.

The Healthy Checkout Ordinance, which will apply to retailers who are more than 2,500 square feet in size and sell at least 25 linear feet of food, will affect approximately 25 Berkeley stores, according to the item. Retailers such as Safeway, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens will have to replace the candy and soda commonly found at checkout with healthier options.

“It’s not a ban, it’s a nudge,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison during the meeting. “These stores can still sell candy and soda, just not at your child’s eye level in the checkout.”

Berkeley has long been known for its innovative approaches to curbing diet-related illness and promoting good health. In 2014, Berkeley became the first city in the nation to levy a tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages and has instituted programs to educate the community about nutrition.

Now, the Healthy Checkout Ordinance aims to improve public health by placing restrictions on the amount of added sugar and sodium in items offered at checkout counters, limiting them to “chewing gum and mints with no added sugars, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, yogurt or cheese and whole grains.”

“It’s a well-thought-out, easily implemented and effective approach,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, during public comment.Being in that checkout stand with my kid, who’s going crazy, and trying to get out without buying any crappy food is a real challenge. We’re always fighting against the marketing.”

Impulse buying that takes place during checkout at grocery stores undermines a consumer’s ability to make healthy purchases, the item states. High rates of sugar and sodium consumption have been linked to an elevated risk of diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Additionally, poor health outcomes associated with diet disproportionately affect people of color in Berkeley. Rates of hospitalization for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are disproportionately high among African Americans, according to the item.

“This is a health equity issue,” said Holly Scheider, chair of Berkeley’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts, during the meeting. “Not only do people of color have higher rates of diabetes, but they also face higher rates of COVID, and it’s a double whammy right now because people with diabetes are more vulnerable to COVID.”

Berkeley residents have, so far, widely supported the idea of healthy checkout aisles. Focus groups conducted in 2018 and 2019 both found unanimous support for healthier checkout options, and a recent online poll also found that more than 95% of respondents supported the ordinance, according to the item.

The effective date for the ordinance was delayed until March 1, 2021, and it will not be enforced until Jan. 2022.

Jacob Souza is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.