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Sugar is certainly a hot-button issue in the health world. Some advocate eliminating all sweeteners, natural or artificial, while others sing the praises of raw honey and molasses. A recent survey at St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City compiled results from dozens of studies and found that sugar could be more addictive than cocaine, and is certainly more dangerous than salt when it comes to heart health. 

In step with many ambitious New Year's resolutions, Providence Health & Services will phase out all sugar-added sodas, juices, energy drinks, teas, and flavored waters over the next two months, making it the largest health care organization on the West Coast to make the swap towards healthier drinks.

The cut includes any drink sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, sucrose, and dextrose in all cafeterias, gift shops, vending machines, and cafes as an effort to cut down on sugar's role in the development of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.

We sat down with Sandy Miller, director of Health Education for Providence Oregon, who has been working on the company's Healthy Dining Initiative since 2012, to find out more about the program.

Are there any specific studies or trends that inspired the move away from sugary drinks?

No specific study triggered this change but there is a large body of strong scientific evidence linking sugary drinks with diabetes, obesity, increased cardiovascular risk, and tooth decay. Providence joins the growing national trend of health care organizations that have eliminated sugary drinks. Those who have successfully made the transition include Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and Seattle Children's in Washington State.

Will this initiative impact the sale of juice or sweetened coffee drinks?

Any drink, carbonated or non-carbonated, with added sugar will be eliminated from our offerings. Examples of sugary drinks include:

  • Regular sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks
  • Prepackaged sweetened coffee and tea drinks, lemonade and punch
  • Fruit or vegetables drinks that are not 100 percent juice
  • Flavored waters with added sugar

We will continue to offer fruit-infused water, bottled water, seltzer water, sugar-free or diet drinks, milk, and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices. We will continue to promote water and encourage people to rethink their drinks. In patient care areas, regular soda will be available upon request. Caregivers (employees) are also welcome to bring in regular soda that they have purchased elsewhere.

What was the reaction in early January amongst employees at the Northeast Portland business office?

As with any change, a few people are not happy but the majority of employees are excited about the change.  Prior to making this change, we surveyed our employees at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, 75% of survey respondents said that they look for healthy food and beverage choices in our dining facilities. In 2014 our Oregon Chief Executive informally surveyed employee groups and found that the majority of employees supported this change.

Are doctors at Providence encouraged to talk to their patients about dietary changes and disease prevention through lifestyle choices?

Many Providence providers (doctors, dietitians, diabetes educators, cardiac rehab) talk with patients every day about making healthier lifestyle choices. Chronic diseases and conditions-such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity-are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems and they are largely impacted by lifestyle choices like diet.

What do you think about the move to eliminate sugary drinks from Providence hospitals? Tell us in the comments!

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