Bans on Sugary Drinks Expand in Massachusetts

One day before Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced his executive order prohibiting the sale, advertisement, and promotion of sugary drinks on city-owned property, Carney Hospital President Bill Walczak implemented a ban on sugar-sweetened drinks being sold or otherwise provided on the hospital’s grounds.

Bill then joined the mayor and other leading health and nutrition experts at a press conference over the weekend announcing the expanded municipal ban (sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks were removed from Boston Public School vending machines in 2009). Carney is believed to be the first hospital in the city to prohibit sugary drinks, and it is certainly one of Boston’s first big employers to take such a strong stand in the battle against obesity. Once again, Massachusetts hospitals are leading the way as stewards of the public health. Bravo!

Recent research has shown that beverages now make up a significant portion of people’s overall calorie intake, and that soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are major sources of added sugar in American diets. The added calorie intake can result in weight gain, which in turn can cause health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

Mayor Menino’s executive order sets science-based standards for what constitutes ‘healthy’ drinks, and gives Boston city departments six months to clean up their nutritional act using a stoplight-based system. The city will encourage consumption of so-called ‘green’ beverages such as bottled water, unsweetened tea, and lowfat milk; meanwhile, ‘yellow’ drinks such as diet sodas and other diet beverages, 100{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} juices, and flavored or sweetened milk may continue to be sold. ‘Red’ beverages — including non-diet soda, pre-sweetened iced tea, dessert-like cold coffee beverages, sports and energy drinks, and juice drinks with added sugar — are being phased out entirely.

At the Mass. Hospital Assoc. (MHA), we also take health and nutrition very seriously. We supported Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal last year to lift the sales-tax exemption on candy and soda and funnel the extra revenue into health programs. While that particular effort has not been successful (yet), as the leading voice for hospitals throughout the commonwealth, MHA employees know it’s important for us to ‘walk the talk’ on this important issue.

That’s why MHA developed an initiative called HEALING, which promotes healthy eating, active living, and a greener work environment. Our HEALING program sponsors health-related lectures, screenings, and cooking demonstrations, and supports a wide variety of healthy options, including a healthy-snack honor bar and a relaxation room. Just recently, MHA was acknowledged for our efforts when we were named one of the state’s healthiest employers in the small-business category by the Boston Business Journal.

So you can see that MHA is passionate about this issue — as I am personally. I have to admit, I’m forever toting a Dunkin’ Donuts unsweetened iced tea with lots of lemon and no artificial sweeteners. So I walk and ‘drink’ the talk! I look forward to the day when sugary drinks are banned from all state and local government locations, not just our public schools. Meanwhile, three cheers for the City of Boston and for the health-conscious hospitals of Massachusetts for doing their part — and then some — to promote our communities’ public health.

Lynn Nicholas is president and CEO of the Mass. Hospital Assoc. This article appeared in the MHA blog, Voices in Healthcare.