The Columbia-based Horizon Foundation, with the help of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and other organizations, launched a campaign against childhood obesity and the consumption of sugary drinks Tuesday outside of Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City.
The kick-off event, called "Dump That Sugar," was punctuated with the dumping of 9.6 tons of white sand in the school's parking lot, at the command of Burleigh Manor students.
The sand, which was donated to the Columbia Association, represented the amount of sugar the school's students would consume each year if every student drank one 12-ounce soda a day.
According to Horizon Foundation President and CEO Nicole Highsmith-Vernick, the campaign — dubbed "Howard County. Unsweetened." — is focused on creating awareness among parents about the hazards of sugary drinks.
"Our goal is as simple as it is positive: to make it easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices," Highsmith-Vernick said. "We are working to change community norms to make it easier on moms and dads. We want parents to expect that healthy beverage options will be available wherever kids live, learn and play in Howard County."
As part of the campaign, the Horizon Foundation has launched HoCoUnsweetened.org, a website designed to help parents identify better drink choices and where to find them. On the website, the foundation has created a "Better Beverage Finder," which shows parents where to find more than 300 better beverage options in the county.
In conjunction with the campaign's launch, Ulman announced signing an executive order that will eliminate sugary drinks from being sold, dispensed or offered by county departments on county-owned property or at county-sponsored events, programs or meetings.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for parents to make the right choices," Ulman said. "Starting today, we will be making significant progress on beverages sold on county property."
"That means in vending machines in county buildings, that means in county libraries and county parks. ... The vending machines will look different, starting right away."
The order, which takes effect immediately, does not apply to the school system, according to county spokesman Mark Miller.
Under the order, all beverages distributed by county departments must meet the newly enacted "Howard County Healthy Options Beverage Standards."
The new standards limit beverage options to the following:
• Calorically-sweetened cold beverages with fewer than five calories per serving.
• Fruit- and/or vegetable-based beverages with 100 percent juice, or 100 percent juice that is diluted with water, that do not exceed 120 calories per serving. These beverages must also be in a container no larger than eight ounces and must have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
• Low-fat or non-fat unflavored milk and milk substitutes with fewer than 22 grams of sugar per eight ounce serving.
• Artificially sweetened diet drinks with less than five calories per serving. These beverages must be no more than one-quarter of the total beverage offerings.
According to the executive order, county departments will begin the transition immediately, although only to "the extent possible under existing contracts."
Although it does not apply to the school system, Superintendent Renee Foose, who was at the kick-off event, said the Board of Education is currently in the process of reviewing the school system's wellness policy.
"I applaud the Horizon Foundation and the county executive for this initiative. It only serves to make the school system a better place for all of our students," Foose said.