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UW Health plans to stop selling sugar-sweetened beverages by the end of the year, becoming one of the first health care organizations in Wisconsin to eliminate sugary drinks as a way to encourage patients, employees and visitors to consume healthier alternatives.

UW Hospital will also remove deep fryers from its cafeteria in December, as it joins a growing list of hospitals nationwide trying to model healthy behaviors.

“It’s consistent with the advice we pass out to families and ask them to follow,” said Dr. David Allen, the hospital’s head of pediatric diabetes and endocrinology.

Other hospitals and clinics in Madison and throughout the state have taken steps to encourage healthier drinks such as water and low-fat milk. But UW Health joins Baldwin Area Medical Center as the only health care systems in Wisconsin to announce they are eliminating sugary drinks.

UW Hospital, American Family Children’s Hospital and UW Health clinics will get rid of regular soda, sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, energy drinks, high-calorie sports drinks and sweetened teas and coffees from food-service locations, vending machines, kiosks, a catering service and administrative buildings.

Remaining drinks will include bottled water, sparkling waters, vitamin waters, flavor-infused spa water, fat-free and low-fat milk, 100 percent fruit juices, low-calorie sports drinks, unsweetened teas and diet soda.

Those drinks will be color coded and priced to encourage the healthiest options. Water will be coded green, for example, while 100 percent fruit juice will be yellow and diet soda will be red, with the latter costing more.

Employees and visitors will still be able to bring in sugary drinks.

In the cafeteria, french fries, cheese curds, fish, onion rings and shrimp will continue to be offered. But they will be baked, not fried.

The hospital removed sugary drinks and fried foods from patient menus last year. Some patients, such as those who are nauseated or need extra calories, can still get sugary drinks with a doctor’s note.

UW Hospital made about $1.8 million from sales of all beverages last year, including about $580,000 from beverages that will no longer be sold, spokeswoman Emily Kumlien said.

Sugary drinks contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver inflammation and other medical conditions, said Amy Mihm, a hospital dietitian and member of the committee that developed the beverage policy.

A 12-ounce regular soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar, more than the recommended daily limit of added sugar for an adult, Mihm said.

“Typically those added sugars have empty calories with few, if any, essential nutrients,” she said. “We want to make a healthy choice an easy choice.”

Dean Clinic/St. Mary’s Hospital, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, Madison’s Veterans Hospital and Meriter-UnityPoint Health sell sugary drinks, but they have been increasing healthier options, spokespeople said.

After Meriter started labeling drinks green, yellow and red in April 2013, the percentage of healthiest, or green, drinks sold went from 16 percent of all beverages the first quarter of last year to 51 percent of all beverages the first quarter of this year, spokeswoman Leah Huibregtse said.

Cleveland Clinic and the University of Michigan Health System are among hospitals in other states that have eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages.

Allen, the UW Health diabetes doctor, said drinking a 12-ounce regular soda a day can cause 20 pounds of weight gain a year.

The new policy, which comes six years after UW Hospital banned smoking, is one way UW Health can help curb the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, Allen said.

“We can’t control the choices people make, but we’re trying to set a good example,” Allen said.


David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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