Sugary sodas are becoming scarce at HealthPartners.

The Bloomington-based nonprofit said Monday it would remove at least 80 percent of all sugary beverages from its network of hospitals and clinics next year. The same goes at headquarters for the nonprofit’s health insurance business.

Drinks with sweeteners that add calories will be eliminated by Jan. 1 from vending machines and cafeterias at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, plus the Park Nicollet network of clinics.

Both merged into HealthPartners at the beginning of 2013 and started making sugar-free moves a couple of years ago.

“People are still free to bring in a beverage from home if they chose,” said Dr. Karla Rosenman, a Park Nicollet physician who helped develop the new policy. “But everything that we sell at Methodist Hospital, and in all of our Park Nicollet clinics, will be free of any added caloric sweeteners.”

HealthPartners is the third-largest health care employer in the state, with more than 22,000 workers. The nonprofit’s move follows similar steps at Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services, Duluth-based Essentia Health and a handful of hospitals that are discouraging sugary drinks due to links between the beverages and health problems.

The programs are just one of the head winds for the beverage industry, which has been struggling with declines in soda pop consumption.

When hospitals or other groups reduce or eliminate sugary drinks, overall vending sales decline, said Steve Marx, the owner of Royal Vending in Maple Grove and president of the Minnesota Automatic Merchandising Council.

“It’s always concerning anytime there are restrictions on what we can sell,” Marx said.

At Methodist Hospital and Park Nicollet, diet sodas with sweeteners that don’t add calories still will be available. Milk and fruit juices will be allowed, too, along with coffee and unsweetened tea.

Will sugar packets be ­available?

“Yes. Sugar packets are something that you add consciously to your drink, and you can choose whether you add one or two … .,” Rosenman said. “When people are buying that 20-ounce soda, they’re not consciously aware that they’re buying something with 22 sugar packets in it.”

At Methodist Hospital, patient menus don’t list ­sugary drinks, Rosenman said, although they are available by request. When employees and visitors bring their own sugary beverages, they won’t be forced outdoors like smokers.

“We have no beverage police,” Rosenman said.

 

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck