Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio will join just a handful of other healthcare institutions by eliminating all sugared-sweetened drinks from its campus. This new policy applies to the hospital's cafeterias, gift shops, vending machines, patient room service and on-site catering service.
"Based on Nationwide Children's regular soda sales alone, patients, staff and visitors were consuming nearly 43,000 pounds of excess sugar in these drinks each year – that's equivalent to the weight of 21 Volkswagen Beetles," said Kelly Kelleher, M.D., MPH, director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice and vice president of Health Services Research at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in a prepared statement. "That is just unacceptable, and if we wanted to walk the walk, we needed to do something about it."
Waters, low-fat milk, pure fruit juices and diet sodas are all healthier alternatives to sugar-sweetened drinks. Nationwide Children's is expanding its selection of these healthier drink options, and in addition, will decrease the cost of bottled water for sale in its cafeteria and food court.
The hospital has always been at the forefront in the fight to combat pediatric obesity. Nationwide Children's has shown this through many clinical and educational programs, and just recently, by championing the landmark Healthy Choices for Healthy Children anti-obesity legislation in Ohio earlier this year.
During the last few years, the hospital has made other healthy changes to its campus including:
- Eliminating deep-fat fryers from room service food preparation and offering healthier, baked versions of items like French fries and chicken nuggets (e.g., by baking French fries instead of frying them, it saves 240 calories).
- Reworking the ingredients of popular food items like spaghetti with meat sauce to make them healthier (e.g., making chicken salad with light mayonnaise saves 190 calories and not adding butter to cooked vegetables saves 123 calories).
- Offering a "Healthier Selection" on the cafeteria menu which contains less than 600 calories, less than 30 percent of calories from fat and less than 600 mg of sodium.
- Posting nutrition information in the cafeteria, food court, gift shops and on the hospital's Intranet.
- Reducing the size of many snacks and drinks sold in the hospital's gift shops, expanding the healthier snack options like trail mix and having educational signage and handouts on how to save calories and make healthy choices.
Not only are sweetened beverages not so good for a child's diet, but they also have an effect on the health of their teeth.
"At Nationwide Children's, we have one of country's largest pediatric dentistry programs, and oral health is severely affected by the acids and sugars in many of these beverages," said Dr. Kelleher, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. "Cutting back or eliminating sugared drinks from a child's diet will greatly improve the health of their teeth."
Sugar-free doesn't mean caffeine-free and there will still be caffeinated drink options at the hospital. Staff and patient families will still be able to bring in their own sugar-sweetened beverages however they will not be able to purchase them on campus. Physicians, residents and nurses will have the option to order sugar-sweetened drinks for patients (e.g. dehydration, GI tube cleaning, increase calories in patient's diet, etc.) in special circumstances.