Most hospitals have strict hours for visitors. Should they have the same limitations on sugar?
A hospital in the United Kingdom thinks so, and has banned the sale of sugary drinks and food.
The ban affects both patients and employees. It comes after a kingdom-wide ban on sugary drinks in all National Health Service (NHS) hospitals.
The ban takes effect on July 1. It includes vending machine products as well as foods and drinks in the hospital cafeteria and from hospital catering services.
Tameside Hospital had already initiated a weight loss scheme for its employees. About 100 staff members took part in the 12-week slimming program.
After sugary snacks and drinks were removed from the menu and vending machines, one nurse lost 28 pounds. Others lost as much as 20 pounds. One employee living with diabetes was able to come off medication for their condition.
“Long hours and shift patterns often make it very difficult for people to make healthy choices, so they opt for the instant sweet fixes, which until now have been readily available,” Karen James, the hospital’s chief executive, told The Telegraph.
It’s estimated that 700,000 of the NHS’ employees are overweight or obese. Around 1.3 million people work for the service. The United Kingdom is the country with the highest obesity rates in Europe. An estimated 1 in 4 adults is obese.
Retailers that supplied hospitals in the United Kingdom had previously been limited to 10 percent or less of profits from sugary beverages. Those rules also prohibited prepackaged meals from containing more than 400 calories. In addition, candy and chocolate packages can only contain 250 calories or less.
The news has been greeted with mixed response.
Some took to social media, proclaiming that the hospital had taken away “their freedom of choice.”
In response, hospital representatives said that employees were free to bring in their own sugary snacks and beverages.
Others praised the hospital for its “forward thinking.”
Taking action in the United States
While no official governing body has control over hospitals in the United States, some medical facilities have taken similar routes.
The Cleveland Clinic has banned sugar-sweetened beverages for several years. The prohibition applies to patients, visitors, and caregivers.
“Evidence on the harmful impact of excess sugar consumption on human health is increasing,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietician who is wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline.
She called the British hospital as well as the Cleveland Clinic “trailblazing institutions.”
Kirkpatrick hopes the bans can provide teachable moments.
“The Cleveland Clinic has a robust educational platform on why we made the decision to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Kirkpatrick.
She noted that most foods with added sugars have little nutritive value. The one exception could be whole-grain bread, where small amounts of sugar need to be used to activate the yeast to make the bread rise.
Currently, more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese. At least $148 billion a year is spent on obesity-related healthcare.
Only 5 percent have type 1 diabetes. The exact cause of this type is unknown, but it’s thought that an autoimmune condition causes the pancreas to stop functioning.
An estimated third of the adult population have prediabetes, where blood sugar levels are above normal limits.
Other prevention programs
The Cleveland Clinic was the first clinic featured in a case study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of hospitals and other clinics that utilized the agency’s “Healthy Hospitals” prevention program.
The program provides a toolkit for hospital nutritionists, employees, and human resource workers to implement healthy options in a hospital. Food, drink, and physical activity are covered.
In some communities, soda taxes have been approved. In most places, the sale of sugary drinks has decreased, but the health effects of these measures aren’t known yet.
But these efforts show that people are becoming increasingly aware of the possible effects of sugary foods on obesity and want something to be done about it.