As seen in the Hudson Star Observer 12-11-14:
No more sugar, artificial sweeteners in Hudson Hospital drinks
Local effort a first in HealthPartners network; ahead of the curve in Midwest
Hudson Hospital & Clinic is one of the first hospitals in Wisconsin to eliminate beverages containing sugar or artificial sweeteners from its onsite offerings for patients, visitors and staff. After a three-year phase-in, only healthy alternatives are now available at Hudson, including sparkling water, fruit juices, fruit-vegetable and herb-infused water, milk, coffee and tea. “This is for patients, staff and visitors here at the hospital,” noted Nutrition Care Manager Jean Weiler. The local healthy beverages initiative is also the first within HealthPartners in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“In the Midwest, Hudson Hospital is ahead of the curve with this,” Weiler said. “The change is in the process at other HealthPartners organizations as well. Eventually most healthcare facilities will be part of this. Hudson just happens to be the furthest along.” The change was fueled by a growing body of research showing the contribution of both sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages to obesity and other health problems.
The plan to provide and encourage healthy food and beverages began at Hudson Hospital in 2011, when the board of directors signed off on a pledge to promote onsite alternatives. “It wasn’t an immediate change, and has been a gradual process,” Weiler explained. Healthy foods are now featured in all patient, café, snack service and vending line-ups as well. The beverage initiative is part of an overall healthy eating nutrition program that also includes in-house education, promotion and leadership, as well as a variety of community outreach programs. “In the fall of 2012, we got a set of guidelines on how to go about reducing and then eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages,” Weiler said. “They recommended that we form a team throughout our organization, and in 2013 our team looked at developing a plan. By mid-2014, we eliminated both sugar-sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages.” Sales at the hospital café have remained constant since the change, Weiler said, “Healthy is not more expensive.”
The new beverage menu also has been a hit with employees, patients and other hospital customers. “Many people have said that it’s a really positive change,” she noted. “Some people who used to buy soda here every day are now saying, “This is good. I’m glad we have these.”
Initially, the hospital reduced the price of the new healthy drinks to “get our customers at least interested in trying them,” Weiler said. “The idea was to make the better choice an easy choice, but it’s more than that. We’ve been talking to people about it and creating an environment here where healthy choices are easy.” When new hospital patients arrive, for example, a dietitian explains both the new options and the rationale for healthy eating and drinking “regardless of whether they’re on a special diet or not. I think our patients are very appreciative,” says Weiler.
The healthy foods/healthy beverages program has also included buying locally whenever possible and getting more involved with local farms and community-supported agriculture, she added. Hospital officials have sometimes toured local farms to get to know their operators and products up close and personal, Weiler explained. “It’s an excellent way to purchase meat when you know something about the farms you’re buying from,” she said. Hudson Hospital & Clinic has also been buying hogs and steers at St. Croix County Fair livestock auctions for the last three years, Weiler said. The animals have been raised by local 4-H youth members. “Part of this is supporting our youth in the community, but it also creates a positive relationship between the hospital and our local agricultural community as well,” she noted.
“It’s really rewarding when I purchase something that was raised by a local 4-H member and the kid’s parents come up to me and say, ‘Thanks!’ That’s something I really like to hear.”