light soda and vegetables

Take a look around. Have you noticed a difference? The vending machines are filled with 100% sugar-free beverages, the snacks are beginning to get healthier and our hospital cafeterias are offering healthier options such as more bright and colorful fruits and vegetables. You may have also noticed fountain machines have been removed or changed and an increased number of healthier beverages like seltzer water, zero calorie sports drinks and unsweetened teas in the café coolers.  

We are approaching the one-year mark of Penn Medicine’s path to help our patients, families and colleagues make healthy choices when it comes to food and beverages. Last summer, we announced that the health system would be eliminating the sale sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) in all Penn Medicine owned facilities. We know that sodas, sports drinks, sweetened juice and other sugar filled items are a staple in the American diet and are a major contributor to obesity and chronic disease. As of July 1, a “no sugar sweetened beverage” policy went into effect, with entities selling their last sugar sweetened beverage.

The timing of this initiative coincides with a recently published article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which suggests that consuming sugary beverages, including fruit juices, is associated with all-cause mortality “As a cutting edge, world-renowned academic medical center, we aspire to create a model environment for the health and wellness of our patients, their families, our employees and the surrounding community,” said Bill Hanson, MD, chief medical information officer of UPHS and executive sponsor of the SSB initiative. “Providing access to healthier means these changes will impact the health of everyone who engages with Penn Medicine.”

Penn Medicine has also committed to participating in the Good Food Healthy Hospital Program (GFHH). This initiative focuses on the food and beverages served in the hospital environment and has five categories: vending machines, procurement, catering, food served to patients and food served in the cafeteria. All of our downtown Philadelphia hospitals have committed to participating in this program and are making tremendous strides to achieve success in each category.

“So far, every entity has made significant progress in becoming healthier,” said Jen Brady, associate director of Employee Benefits and Wellness, who is spearheading this project. “A great amount of time and effort has been put in by the food services and operations teams at the hospitals, and the impact we are making on our employees, patients and our community is tremendous.” Both Pennsylvania Hospital and Penn Presbyterian have received awards for meeting specific criteria, in food served to patients and in the cafeteria, in product labeling, and nutrition standards. LG Health has been 100% sugar free since last September and Chester County eliminated sugar sweetened beverages in January 2019.

“Not only is this the right thing to do for our patients, families and staff, but we should be setting the example within our communities and leading the way when it comes to establishing life-long healthy habits that ensure optimal well-being and longevity,” said Bob Russell, associate executive director at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

After sugar sweetened beverages are phased out, the focus will switch to the snack vending machines. The goal isn’t to remove all unhealthy snacks. Rather, we want to increase the number of healthy options and label them as “healthier” so that making a healthier choice is easier. To meet the Good Food Healthy Hospital criteria for vending, we will be moving to a 65% healthy, 35% less healthy ratio.

Stay tuned as we make even more progress on the road to healthier hospitals at Penn Medicine. For more information about the Good Food Healthy Hospital program happening across the city of Philadelphia, visit the website at




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