PHILADELPHIA — Sodas, sports drinks, sweetened juices, fast food and grab-and-go vending machine snacks are staples of many American diets, and this fare has become a major contributor to obesity and chronic disease across the nation. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the added sugars from sugary drinks are directly tied to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Penn Medicine is taking strides to eliminate these foods from its facilities in an effort to ensure that the food its serves aligns with its missions to care for, educate and empower patients who are coping with heart disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses.
“As a health system, we aspire to create a model environment for the health and wellness of our patients, their families, and our employees, an effort which extends to the food and drinks we serve in our cafeterias, snack bars, coffee stands, and vending machines,” said Ralph Muller, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Our work to prevent and care for patients with chronic conditions impacted by their diets includes educating them on healthy food and beverage choices — lessons which we believe should be mirrored by what we serve in our facilities.”
Over the next several months, Penn Medicine will begin implementing changes across its hospital campuses, eventually removing all beverages with added sugars, such as regular soda, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened milk, tea, and coffee drinks. Diet and unsweetened beverages, 100% fruit juice, milk and an array of flavored-water options will be available.
In addition to these drink-specific changes, several Penn Medicine hospitals — Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Pennsylvania Hospital and Chester County Hospital — have begun making changes to the food they serve, efforts which align with the “Good Food, Healthy Hospitals” initiative of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
“Every day in our clinics, our care teams are counseling patients on the importance of healthy behaviors and for some, looking to food as medicine to help with disease prevention and management,” said C. William Hanson, MD, chief medical information officer and a professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at Penn Medicine. “We’re already encouraging our patients to make healthy choices each day, and promoting those same kinds of behaviors among our staff and hospital visitors is a logical step in this ongoing health care evolution.”
From eliminating chain fast food restaurant leases to banning smoking on hospital property, health systems nationwide have taken steps in recent years to encourage healthy behaviors for everyone on their campuses. At Penn Medicine, these efforts have also included tools for encouraging smoking cessation and blood pressure control for staff.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Unites States Food and Drug Administration’s Dietary Guidelines 2015 – 2020 reports that most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, and the American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars to no more than half of one’s daily discretionary calorie allowance: less than 100 calories per day for most American women and under 150 calories per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men).
“It is well-reported that these kinds of sugary drinks lead to adverse health effects when consumed regularly or in large quantities,” said Hanson. “Our hope with this initiative is that more of our patients, visitors and staff will be encouraged to make healthy choices while at our facilities — decisions we hope will extend to their lives outside of our walls.”
Patients, visitors and staff will also continue to have the option to bring in their own beverages. And while sugar sweetened beverages will no longer be available in Penn Medicine-owned and -operated facilities, third party vendors on campuses and within hospitals — such as Starbucks and Freshii — will continue to serve beverages of their choosing.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.