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First Big Macs, Now Cola: Local Hospitals Slim Down Menus

Elana Gordon

Families, patients and staff members craving a Coke at Children’s Mercy Hospital will soon have to find their fix elsewhere.

The Kansas City hospital says effective next year, regular soda and other sugary drinks will no longer be available on any of its campuses.

“There’s no nutritional benefit to sugared beverages. They’re a leading contributor to excess calorie intake in both adults and kids,” says Dr. Sarah Hampl, medical director of the hospital’s weight management program. “What this does is makes it easier to make the healthier choice for our patients and families.”

About one in three kids coming to the hospital’s general pediatric clinic are overweight or obese, says Hampl, as are two thirds of the hospital’s 6,200 employees. Hampl doesn’t think the elimination of soda will impact patients and visitors as they come in for brief periods of time, but she’s hopeful the new policy – in combination with other nutrition education efforts and hospital menu changes – will have a long term impact on staff, parents and the community.  

The new beverage policy at Children’s Mercy marks the latest in a slew of efforts by hospitals around the region and country to promote healthy eating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued recommendations, as has the American Hospital Association. 11 of the nations’ largest health systems launched an initiative last spring.

In Kansas City, Truman Medical Centers has changed its menu offerings, launched a mobile market and most recently, closed the longstanding McDonald’s in one of its hospital lobbies. North of Kansas City in St. Joseph, Mo., Heartland Health transformed its menuthis summer.

While this isn’t the first time Children’s Mercy has reviewed its food offerings and nutrition messaging (it has included calorie counts on hospital menus for years), Hampl says the hospital drew inspiration for the latest beverage policy from another national effort.

The “Hospital Healthy Food Commitment” reports to have 150 hospitals on board since it officially launched last month. It asks hospitals to make changes in nine areas by 2015, ranging from offering at least one wellness meal a day on cafeteria and patient menus, to getting rid of all fried foods.

Children's Mercy has signed on, but notes the commitment doesn’t include a total ban on soda and sugary drinks (instead, it asks that places “increase the percentage of healthy beverage dollar purchases throughout the hospital to 80 percent of overall dollar beverage purchases”). Hampl says Children’s Mercy decided to move forward with a more widespread approach after consulting with its family advisory boards and staff leaders.

Once Children's new beverage policy takes effect, those craving that Coke while at the hospital won't be completely out of luck. Though they’ll have to plan ahead.

“Patients, families and employees are welcome to bring in their own sugared drinks,” says Hampl. “It’s just that we’re not going to be selling them here.”


This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KCUR , NPR and Kaiser Health News.


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