In a city where a third of children are overweight, it makes sense that the hospital responsible for their health, treatment and well-being would take steps to curb kids’ consumption of sugar and fat.
Children’s Mercy’s administrators say the hospital is taking the lead in the Kansas City area by being the first to eliminate all sugary drinks there, starting in January. That means no soda or sugar-filled juices in the vending machines, the cafeteria or the gift shop.
“That doesn’t mean hospital employees or patients’ visitors can’t bring their own sugary drink in,” said Karen Cox, the hospital’s executive vice president and co-chief operating officer, “but they won’t be sold anywhere in our hospital.”
The effort is part of a nine-point program set nationally by Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative based in the nation’s capital that focuses on eliminating childhood obesity in the country.
That partnership sprouted from Let’s Move, the national action plan led by first lady Michelle Obama to reduce childhood obesity rates to those of the late 1970s — just 5 percent — by 2030.
Before taking on the challenge, Children’s Mercy put the idea in front of its family advisory board, and Cox said, “They were very supportive.”
The move is one that “most hospitals will do over time,” Cox said, “but someone has to be the leader.”
While Children’s Mercy may be out front on getting rid of all sugary drinks in its hospital, Truman Medical Center also made a move to be more conscious about the sale of healthy food. This year it closed the McDonald’s restaurant that had space in the hospital lobby.
This push to get people in the metro area to make healthy food and drink choices seems to have picked up steam recently. Even Kansas City’s mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce got involved with a five-month weight loss competition that ended this week. The Chamber’s Jim Heeter dropped slightly more than Mayor Sly James.
Eliminating sugar-laden beverages is the third of the nine healthy-choice efforts Children’s Mercy is initiating. The hospital already has started displaying and promoting only healthful food options in all its advertising in its cafeteria and on patient menus. And wellness meals — under 700 calories with less than 10 percent saturated fat, no trans fats and less than 800 milligrams of sodium — are available in the cafeteria and on patient menus.
Next up is an effort to increase the fruits and vegetables sold at the hospital by 20 percent. Instead of cookies and chips at cafeteria checkouts, a customer is more likely to see bowls of fruit and veggie cups, said Shelly Summar, the hospital’s weight management program coordinator.
By 2015, the hospital will have removed all deep fryers from its food service operations.
“There is no research that any one specific change is going to change people’s eating behavior long-term,” Summar said. “But what we do know is that when the healthy choice is the easy choice, people are more likely to make it.”
Summar said the hospital “wants to be a role model for making the healthy choice the easy choice.”
The health of the city’s youth is at stake, she said.
At Children’s Mercy’s primary care clinics, 34 percent of patients at well-child checks in 2011 were overweight or obese, including 28 percent of the 2- to 5-year-olds and 41 percent of the 6- to 12-year-olds.
When a patient or one of their visitors asks for a cola or fruit-flavored juice, Summar said, hospital workers will be instructed to say, “We don’t sell them here,” and then tell them why.
The only exception to serving a sugary drink, is “if we have a very sick child who needs hydration and the only thing they will drink is a Sprite or some other sugary drink,” Summar said. “What we do for patient care is always going to be in the best interest of the patient.”