Getting sugar-heavy drinks out of hospitals and clinics sets an example

Published 9:52 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Hospitals and clinics are places of healing. It only makes sense that more medical centers are moving to restrict their sales of sugar-laden drinks that some health providers sarcastically refer to as “diabetes in a can.”

A small but influential number of clinics and hospitals nationwide have taken the lead in limiting or banning sales of regular soda or other sugary beverages in vending machines or in cafeterias. Their reasoning is solid. Studies show that consumption of these drinks can increase the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout. Patients seeking medical care at hospitals and clinics shouldn’t be buying some of the very products there that contribute to their illnesses.

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Minnesota’s world-class health providers should be at the forefront of this burgeoning effort to discourage drinking beverages loaded with unnecessary sugar. Fortunately, a recent decision by one of the state’s largest health care systems puts Minnesota in the vanguard.

This week, Bloomington-based HealthPartners announced that it will begin limiting sales of these drinks at its clinics and hospitals in 2016. The move will make it hard to find sugary beverages on the premises, whether in vending machines or cafeterias.

HealthPartners merged with Park Nicollet two years ago. The work to reduce sales of these drinks had already begun at Park Nicollet facilities and will continue. It’s logical and laudable to extend the policy to other HealthPartners locations. Diet drinks will still be available.

Other Minnesota providers, including Fairview Health Services and northern Minnesota’s Essentia Health, have targeted sugary drinks. But adding the well-known HealthPartners to the list adds significantly to the momentum. The HealthPartners doctors and staff members who pushed for this are to be commended.

Other major health systems should follow suit. Having Mayo Clinic and Allina Health, two leading Minnesota providers, lend their clout would be especially helpful.

A 20-ounce cola contains between 15 and 18 teaspoons of sugar. Limiting sales of beverages like this at medical centers won’t stop people from drinking them. But it’s a good start. Patients can choose healthier drinks on the premises. Potentially, they’ll start doing so at home, too.