You can forget about buying a vanilla latte or a Mountain Dew at Grand Itasca Hospital in Grand Rapids, Minn. It’s become the second medical center in Minnesota — after St. Luke’s in Duluth — to ban the sale of sugary beverages.
In the past few months, the two hospitals and their clinics have joined a small but growing national movement to rid medical centers of the popular drinks, which have been linked to obesity and diabetes.
The goal, says Grand Itasca’s CEO, Mike Youso, is to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”
It’s a little like the decision to ban smoking at hospitals, says Brianne Solem, the wellness coordinator. Only now they’re targeting “empty calories.”
Under the new rules, regular soda will disappear from Grand Itasca’s vending machines, cafeterias and patient menus, along with energy drinks, sports drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, and fruit juices “that are not 100 percent juice.” Instead, there’ll be plenty of water, low-fat milk, unsweetened coffee and tea, and diet soda.
Solem notes that sugary drinks aren’t banned from the premises. People can still “stop at the Holiday station on the way to work and grab their soda,” she said. “We’re not trying to police that.” In fact, the hospital plans to keep a small stash on hand just in case it’s medically necessary — for an upset stomach, say, or low blood sugar.
St. Luke’s started phasing out sugary drinks before Christmas, and so far the feedback has been “99 percent” positive, a spokesman said.
At Grand Itasca, the idea came up in January as part of a broader wellness program. This “seemed like a great place to start,” said Solem.
“We know that the evidence is overwhelming that sugar-sweetened beverages are hazardous to our health,” she said.
So far, there’s no plan to ban other sugary or fatty favorites, such as French fries and cake, from the menu.
“At the end of the day,” said Solem, “it’s just something to drink.”