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Berkeley bans unhealthy snacks from grocery store checkout lines

Those tempting candy bars and chip bags flanking the grocery store checkout line aren’t placed there by accident, but these impulse buy items will soon be a thing of the past in Berkeley, California after the city became the first to ban “junk food” displays in checkout lines. 

The ban, which was unanimously approved by the city council, applies to all establishments over 2,500 square feet and will go into effect on March 1, 2021. The goal of the ban is to promote community health and reduce obesity. The ban will affect about 25 stores across the city. 

So what qualifies as “junk food?” The law applies to any foods that contain 5 or more grams of added sugars and/or 200 milligrams of sodium. Gum, mints, and drinks with artificial sweetener or added sugar are also banned. Grocery stores are encouraged to instead stock fruit juices, nuts, water, and other healthy snacks instead. 

Residents largely approve of the new ban with 95 percent of respondents stating their approval of the measure in a recent poll. Berkeley has long been at the forefront of community health measures. The city was the first to pass a tax on soda and other drinks with added sugar in 2014. 

Unhealthy snacks will still be available in other parts of the store, but the ban reduces impulse buys and helps encourage healthier eating habits. It also reduces the availability of unhealthy snack temptations for children who are particularly targeted with sugary food marketing. 

Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison helped spearhead the ban and told the SF Chronicle, “The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19.”

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