Group seeks hospital soda ban

LONGWOOD MEDICAL AREA—Local medical institutions should pledge to stop selling soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks in their buildings, says the youth organization Sociedad Latina.

At least a few Longwood Medical Area (LMA) hospitals have agreed to cut back on the sweet drinks, which are linked—sometimes by LMA institutions’ own research—with obesity and other health problems.

Mission Hill-based Sociedad Latina is piggybacking on Mayor Thomas Menino’s recent ban on sugar-sweetened drinks in all City of Boston buildings and events. That covers not only soda, but also juices, teas and sports drinks that have added sugar.

“Mayor Menino took a bold and forward-thinking step,” said Sociedad Latina Executive Director Alexandra Oliver-Dávila in a press statement. “We ask the health institutions in our community to follow suit and set an example for healthy lifestyles.”

“There are a variety of other options, many that they are already offering,” Sociedad Latina spokesperson Nate Leskovic told the Gazette. Those include “water; 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice; low-fat or non-fat milk; unsweetened coffees and teas; flavored seltzers; [and] diet sodas or drinks.”

In a campaign that began in late April, Sociedad Latina asked various institutions to remove sugar-sweetened beverages from vending machines, cafes and cafeterias. The targeted institutions include: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Joslin Diabetes Center and New England Baptist Hospital.

One of those institutions is ahead of the game.

“Joslin doesn’t have any vending machines, cafes or cafeterias,” said Joslin Diabetes spokesperson Eric Bender. “We are very much in sympathy with the effort to reduce obesity and its related ills, one key one being type 2 diabetes.”

Some hospitals, including BIDMC and Children’s, are studying their use of sugar-sweetened drinks. BIDMC recent reduced its vending machines offering sugary drinks.

Children’s has formed a “Healthy Hospital Workgroup” that is reviewing hospital policies on such subjects as sugar-drink sales, according to spokesperson Rob Graham. Children’s is also part of a collaborative effort with the Boston Public Health Commission to “analyze this issue and share best practices,” he said.

Last year, Brigham and Women’s and HSPH published a study that linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to type 2 diabetes and other disorders. Neither institution could immediately tell the Gazette what its own policies are regarding the sale of sugary drinks. According to Sociedad Latina, Brigham and Women’s has a “task force” examining the issue.

The other targeted institutions did not respond to Gazette requests for comment.

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