Hospitals curbing sugary drinks to protect teeth, trim obesity

Headline Goes Here

In just one generation, the number of obese children in this country has tripled.* Today one out of every five kids is obese*, millions more are overweight and the numbers continue to rise. Most doctors agree that sugary drinks are at least partly to blame.

To help curb that problem, Nationwide Children's Hospital is part of a new movement to put a lid on sugary drinks. Starting January 3, 2011, Nationwide Children's will join just a handful of other healthcare institutions in eliminating all sugar-sweetened drinks from its campus. This new policy applies to the hospital's cafeterias, gift shops, vending machines, patient room service and on-site catering service.

While the idea may be hard for some to swallow, it's gaining momentum across the country.

Kelly Kelleher, MD, MPH, is leading the charge. Dr. Kelleher, who serves as director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice and vice president of Health Services Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's says studies show kids get more empty calories each day from sugary drinks than from any other source. By drinking these sugar-filled beverages on the campuses of children's hospitals, these institutions are unfortunately contributing to that shocking statistic.**

"Based on Nationwide Children's regular soda sales alone, patients, staff and visitors were consuming nearly 43,000 pounds of excess sugar in these drinks each year – that's equivalent to the weight of 21 Volkswagen Beetles," Dr. Kelleher says. "That's unacceptable and we had to make some changes."

By making sugary beverages less available in public places like hospitals, doctors like Dr. Kelleher hope patients like 16-year-old Eden Pettis, of Columbus, Ohio will think about their impact more, and eventually consume them less.

When Eden began showing the early signs of diabetes, she knew she had to make some changes. She began exercising and switched to healthier snacks like celery. But the first step she and her mother took had more to do with what she drank than what she ate.

"We immediately cut out soda and juice with sugar, any kind of sugared drinks," says Eden's mom Laverne.

That one move likely saved Eden nearly 800 calories a day. By cutting just one 12-ounce soda a day for a year, Eden will cut 35 pounds of sugar from her diet.

"Multiplied by two or three cans of soda a day, all of those calories can add up to 10 or 15 pounds of weight, if children and teens don't increase their exercise proportionately," says Dr. Kelleher.

Besides putting on extra weight, sugary drinks can also affect your teeth. Nationwide Children's Hospital also has one of the largest dental programs for children in the country and they're treating more kids for more cavities related to sugary drinks.

Their advice is to stick to water or low fat milk - and if you do buy soda, buy diet drinks in smaller cans. Buying 2 liter bottles only encourages kids to drink more.