UW Health: Plans to stop selling sugar-sweetened beverages

October 31, 2014

CONTACT: Emily Kumlien

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MADISON—To continue its efforts to promote healthier eating, UW Health plans to stop selling sugar-sweetened beverages and replace them with healthier alternatives. Plans are underway to implement the policy at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, American Family Children’s Hospital and the UW Medical Foundation buildings.

The change includes food-service locations, vending machines, kiosks, catering at the hospital, and hospital and UWMF administrative buildings. Both organizations expect this new policy to fully be implemented by the end of the year. There was employee input into this decision through employee surveys and committee meetings.

“We understand that nutritional needs may vary, but UW Health needs to promote healthy living and smart choices. We can no longer support something that we know has little to no nutritional value,” said Ron Sliwinski, CEO of UW Hospital and Clinics.

Regular soda, sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas and sweetened coffees will no longer be sold. These sugar-sweetened beverages provide little to no nutritional value, but are high in calories. Drinking sweetened beverages can lead to serious health problems, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, heart disease, weak bones and poor dental health.

A variety of healthier options will be offered, including sparkling waters, flavor-infused spa water, vitamin waters, fat-free and low-fat milk, unsweetened teas, and diet soda.

Diet soda and other beverages with artificial sweeteners will make up 40 percent of the choices in the vending machines and retail outlets, while 60 percent will be healthy beverage choices. Coffee and sugar packets will also be available.

Patients, visitors, and staff may still bring their own sweetened beverages into the facilities, but the hope is removing these drinks will create an environment where people can make healthier choices more easily.

“This is an integrated effort as UW Health moves towards no longer selling or providing sugared beverages to patients, staff and visitors at all of our locations. This is the latest example of our efforts to create a healthy community environment,” said Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, CEO of University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation.

The hospital and physician group are dedicated to creating a culture where, as public-health advocates say, “the healthy choice is the easy choice.” This continued effort is a part of the “My Smart Choice” campaign, led by the Healthy Hospital and Clinics Committee, which allows consumers to more easily identify the food and drinks that are the healthiest options.

Sugary beverages and fried foods were taken off the inpatient menu in 2013 and healthier farm-fresh, locally-sourced food options have a greater emphasis on the updated menus. Sugary drinks are available to a patient with a doctor’s note.

“We offer many seasonal, farm-fresh, locally-sourced food options. Our beverage policy is the next step. We removed sugary beverages and fried foods from the adult and pediatric room service menus last year and patients now have more nourishing options during their stay. We are continually moving the needle to healthier options,” said UW Hospital and Clinics executive chef John Williams, a member of the Healthy Hospital and Clinics Committee.

The efforts will continue when the deep fryers will be removed from the hospital cafeteria in December. A TurboChef oven will be added. French fries, cheese curds, fish, onion rings and shrimp will still be offered but they will be baked instead of deep fried.

“The calories and fat are significantly reduced by baking instead of deep frying. The baked foods have just as much, if not more, flavor,” said Williams.

University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children’s Hospital are the first Madison-area hospitals, and believed to be only the second in the state, to adopt a policy eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages. UW joins other leading hospitals across the country, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Michigan Health System, to fight this health problem.

“We have realistic expectations and we don’t expect to cure diabetes overnight, but we want to take a step forward and be leaders in combating the obesity epidemic,” said Dr. David Allen, professor of pediatrics and head of pediatric diabetes and endocrinology at UW.