CSPI: Hospitals Getting Healthier

Feeling better? Good, here’s a Coke. The bedside beverages at hospitals have long served as one of this country’s many contradictions.

Health care facilities across the country are beginning to change their offerings, however. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a report on 11 hospitals that have taken steps away from sugar-sweetened beverages; the news could represent another entry point for innovative beverage brands, especially if the shifts become a trend.

“Physicians, nurses and hospital administrators see firsthand how Americans struggle with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other debilitating soda-related conditions,” Jim O’Hara, CSPI director of health promotion policy, said in a release. “And they increasingly realize that the availability of soda and other sugar drinks is inconsistent with hospitals’ work to treat and prevent disease.”

While entrepreneurs don’t typically mention hospitals as a route to market, they commonly mention the term “foodservice” after going through the usual suspects of mass, club, grocery, convenience, dollar, natural, etc. Yet despite their overshadowed status in the beverage industry, hospitals could provide a significant opportunity to entrepreneurs with foresight. According to the American Hospital Association, there were 5,723 U.S. registered hospitals in 2012. The gradual menu shifts of these hospitals, which have environmental and health concerns in mind, could foster yet another place for beverage brands to establish consumer loyalty.

Take the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven, for example. Aiming to increase sales of water, coffee, tea, skim milk and 100 percent no-sugar-added juice, the center made only those beverages available to patients, according to the CSPI report, and in the center’s cafeteria, placement and pricing strategies encourage the sales of these beverages. The center has also released a wellness newsletter and conducted taste tests of healthier options with staff and clients. The changes have paid dividends. In the first quarter of 2013, the sales of healthy beverages increased by 44 percent. In the second quarter, that figure jumped to 72 percent. The center is constructing a new cafeteria, seeking the help of a nutritionist and beginning to grow produce in its courtyard garden, which is tended to by patients.

There’s also the Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash., which has used sustainable packaging, added more fruits and vegetables to cafes, reduced meal portion sizes and stocked local and organic foods. The hospital has also eliminated bottled beverages containing high fructose corn syrup from its main lobby cafe and patient menus, raised the prices of fountain drinks and removed energy drinks from its cafeterias. To smooth the transition, the hospital has participated in one-on-one education with employees by email, phone and in-person.

“These facilities represent a sample of the many healthcare organizations nationwide who are redefining the role of hospitals in promoting prevention-based care,” Stacia Clinton, a registered dietitian who runs the Health Care Without Harm Healthy Beverage Project and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative Beverage Challenge, said in the release.

To read more about the beverage reforms of hospitals across the U.S., click here.