James Tate is the owner of Beyond W8 Loss Total Wellness Center.

Monday will be a very special day for me. In Prince George’s County, the place I call home, a law goes into effect that will make it easier for families and their children to choose healthier food and drink options when ordering kids’ meals at restaurants in the county. This bill will improve health for children and their families by making the healthy option the easy choice.

More than a decade ago, I weighed more than 400 pounds. A car accident left me with injuries to the entire left side of my body and back. I was immobile for a year. Doctors told me that the only way to properly heal would be to lose weight. For the sake of my family and my health, I knew I had to make changes to my life.

Over time, I lost more than 200 pounds, primarily by making nutritious adjustments to my lifestyle. I stopped eating fried and fast foods and focused on fruits and vegetables. It changed my life, but it wasn’t easy. As a father of three, I appreciate healthy options for my children so they can develop lifestyles that will help them live long and productive lives, free of chronic disease.

My journey inspired me to help my community to improve its wellness. I own a small business in Suitland, where I motivate, educate and inspire families to live healthy lives by focusing on their mental, spiritual, emotional and physical wellness. I have also written several children’s books that focus on nutrition and wellness.

I am very proud to say that last fall, I advocated the Prince George’s County Healthy Kids’ Meal Bill, which will go into effect on Monday. It is the first law of its kind in the country to include healthier comprehensive options for both food and drinks. It makes water, milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice the default beverage options for all kids’ meals served at Prince George’s restaurants. It also ensures that food options in kids’ meals limit calories, sugar, salt and fat. Families will be able to order other beverage items upon request.

In 2018, a similar law was implemented in Baltimore that also made nutritious options a priority for Charm City kids and their families, but there is so much more of our state to cover.

Studies have shown there is a strong link between the amount of fast food that preschool age children consume and their likelihood of becoming overweight or obese. More than one-third of Maryland children age 10 to 17 are not at a healthy weight. In short, young children with unhealthy weights become older children with unhealthy weights.

Developing healthy eating habits as a kid leads to maintaining healthy eating habits as an adult. It will keep everyone at lower risk of contracting chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even the coronavirus. Had I had healthier options to choose from in my community when I was younger, I may not have struggled with my health as a teen and an adult.

There are 22 other counties in Maryland that would benefit from passing legislation like we did here in Prince George’s. We are looking forward to setting the standard throughout the state.

We continue to contend with the sugary-drink industry, which spends millions on relentless marketing, specifically to children. Celebrities who appeal to young people, particularly youths of color, are paid to promote unhealthy drinks. The children of Maryland and their families need to and want to get healthier, but they can only do so when it becomes easier to choose healthier options. Baltimore City and Prince George’s County have set the standard. It’s now time for other localities of this state to follow suit and put all Maryland children on the path to living long, healthy and productive lives.

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