Essentia phasing out sugary beverages at Twin Ports hospitalsEssentia Health’s decision to remove sugary beverages from its Twin Ports hospitals sends a clear message to other health systems in the state, a local advocate for healthier diets said.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Essentia Health’s decision to remove sugary beverages from its Twin Ports hospitals sends a clear message to other health systems in the state, a local advocate for healthier diets said.
“It sends a really important signal to the other health-care systems in Minnesota that they need to get on board,” said Jamie Harvie, executive director of the Duluth-based Institute for a Sustainable Future.
Essentia Health announced this week that it’s phasing out sugar-sweetened beverages at its Superior and downtown Duluth facilities, citing the contribution of drinks such as colas, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened coffee and tea to the nation’s obesity crisis.
The Essentia hospitals join St. Luke’s, North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais, Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors and Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital in Grand Rapids in removing the beverages from their facilities. None of the state’s hospitals outside of the Northland have joined in so far.
Essentia should be free of sugary beverages in its cafeterias, coffee shops, gift shops and vending machines by August, spokeswoman Kim Kaiser said.
A transition will follow in vending machines at Essentia’s neighborhood clinics in Duluth in late August, Kaiser said.
Essentia Health has 18 hospitals and 68 clinics across Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho, but the new policy is limited to the Twin Ports. Dr. Timothy Zager, president of Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic said the health system consists of three divisions, each with a certain amount of autonomy. And some nearby hospitals — such as Deer River, Virginia and Aurora — are fairly new to Essentia.
“We felt we need to get this established first and then start having a dialogue with (other hospitals and clinics),” Zager said.
Employee response has been mixed, he said. Everyone agrees it’s a decision in favor of better health, but “there are some misgivings over the loss of choice.”
But employees still will be able to bring their own beverages to work, he said, and even patients in some situations may be able to have sugar-sweetened drinks delivered to them.
Both Zager and Harvie said such drinks aren’t the lone reason for the nation’s obesity crisis. But they do represent half of the added calories in the U.S. diet, Harvie said, and they offer no nutritional benefit.
Harvie said he hopes communities and major employers will follow the hospitals’ example. The goal is to make healthier drinks the “default choice,” he said.