IU Health is taking the fight against obesity into its own hospital cafeterias and vending machines.
You can no longer find regular cola, sweet tea or lemonade at hospitals on the IU Health campus in downtown Indianapolis. In their place is a selection of diet, unsweetened and “light” options. On May 15, all sugary drinks disappeared from cafeterias and vending machines.
Signs posted in the cafeterias alerted visitors to the new policy. As they began to choose between water, diet soda or low calorie juice, opinions were mixed.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Vickie Detlaf, who recently gave up soda.
“I think everyone deserves a choice,” said Debbie Jimenez, who didn’t agree with the new policy. “If they want to drink something with sugar in it, that is their choice.”
“You’re always going to get some push back with changes,” said Kate Juergens, a registered dietician for IU Health. “But we think we’re making the right choices for our patients and our employees.”
IU Health still allows visitors to bring in sugary drinks, but they’re not making them available to buy anywhere.
IU Helath is following guidelines set by Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit organization focused on reducing childhood obesity by working with the private sector.
Juergens said the effort is especially important in Indiana. According to the Center for Disease Control, 65 percent of Indiana adults are overweight and 30 percent are obese.
“Of all of the food that we can choose here in America, sugar sweetened beverages are the ones that are most closely linked to obesity,” Juergens said.
Nearly all of the vendors on the IU Health campus have agreed to pull their sugary drinks as well, but there is one big exception. The McDonald’s inside Riley Hospital for Children still sells Coke and all of the other traditional options.
“We’re disappointed that McDonald’s has chosen not to participate,” Juergens said.
Despite the exception, Juergens said they are confident the new policy will catch on. She said low calorie food options outsell all others thanks to a new labeling system that highlights meals under 500 calories. The low calorie options are also more affordable than the rest.
“Turkey bacon here is going to be cheaper than regular bacon,” Juergens said.
But with regular soda no longer available at all, not everyone agrees with the move.
“It’s your choice. Health is your own choice,” Jimenez said.
“Any consumer has that right to make their choice,” Detlef said. “I think healthy choices are better.”
IU Health plans to eventually roll out the new soda policy at its facilities throughout the area.