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The Catalyst

Coca-Cola partners with SC hospitals to promote healthy choices

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

MUSC employees are fortunate to have numerous choices as well as access to nutritional guidance. Wellness expert Dr. Susan Johnson promotes healthy options.  photo by Sarah Pack, Public Relations

There is a debate brewing in South Carolina – one that boils down to choice: choice as it relates to whether sugary soft drinks should be offered in hospitals.

Proponents for instituting policy against sugar-laden beverages in hospitals include president of the S.C. Medical Association, Bruce Snyder, M.D., who asserts that health statistics prove people are making choices that are deleterious to their health and the medical community should step in to combat these behaviors.

Recently, Snyder wrote a letter to hospital administrators urging them to eliminate sugary drinks from their facilities as part of the fight against obesity.

“Obesity is an epidemic in our state and its effects are so detrimental in our society that we must begin to come together and take the necessary steps to promote a more healthy lifestyle,” Snyder said. “Physicians and health care leaders are role models for South Carolina patients, and healthy, positive steps begin through our personal choices and leadership.”

Some at the S.C. Hospital Association agree with Snyder’s stand and similar to the SCMA, they have stated that sugary drinks will not be readily available at meetings they host. SCHA’s philosophy is such beverages are “not compliant with their ‘Work to be Fit’ wellness program.”

MUSC, on the other hand, has taken a different tack: providing options.

"I applaud Dr. Snyder for sparking this debate amongst hospital leaders. MUSC has been a leader in workplace wellness and we know that the first step towards improvement is an honest, open discussion of the issues. Dr. Snyder helped push that issue across South Carolina hospitals. We have had extensive discussions about sugary beverages served at MUSC and have decided that an outright ban is not the right approach for us. We prefer to aggressively educate about choices and portion control," said Patrick Cawley, M.D., CEO of the MUSC Medical Center.

Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of MUSC Health Promotion, supports Cawley’s hands–on approach.

"What I try to emphasize is that number one, just because we are part of the medical community and our goal is to prevent disease and educate our patients and employees, we are not the food police – that's not our purpose," said Johnson. "The purpose is not to take away foods, but to add options and emphasize healthy food choices. You also lose the ability to educate when choice is removed, especially when there are countless places where those choices are available."

The subject is a complicated one as South Carolina has some of the worst statistics related to obesity in the nation. The 2011 South Carolina Obesity Burden Report, a comprehensive report published by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, reports that 67.4 percent of all adults and nearly 30 percent of high school students in South Carolina are either overweight or obese.

Both statistics represent a move in the wrong direction and the regular over-consumption of sugar-laden soft drinks has been at the heart of the discussion.

While beverage companies are receiving the brunt of the blame, no one factor can be blamed exclusively for the obesity crisis.

MUSC has long been considered a leader in both wellness and weight management and has improved the lives of countless employees and people in the community – not by restricting access to foods and beverages, but by offering many options, healthier selections, price breaks on certain nutrient-rich meals, as well as exercise programs and even specials on Wellness Center membership packages. The idea is to create a culture of wellness through education and options.

In April 2013, the MUSC Board of Trustees passed a resolution encouraging a culture of wellness through a healthy food environment, physically active workplace, and tobacco–free campus and committed the necessary resources and support to ensure such a workplace could be achieved.

MUSC is enjoying recognition in the wellness arena for this forward-thinking approach. In 2011, the Duke Endowment awarded a multi-year grant to SCHA to launch a new initiative called Working Well, a collaboration between the South Carolina Hospital Association and N.C. Prevention Partners. The program is aimed at providing the highest standards in creating a physically active workplace. Since then, MUSC has been named a Working Well Center of Excellence and a Gold Triple Threat hospital for reaching the highest standards of excellence in all three pillars: tobacco, nutrition and physical activity.

The Working Well program, like MUSC, does not support restricting products.

“The Working Well campaign doesn’t advocate banning any foods from the workplace. Instead, it emphasizes healthy choices, portion control, product placement and pricing strategies, all of which are designed to make healthy foods more attractive and affordable,” said Thornton Kirby, president and CEO of the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Collaborating with corporately responsible partners in the quest to develop and implement innovative wellness programs is important to MUSC leadership. Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated is one such partner, owing to its ongoing commitment to providing healthful options.
They have partnered with South Carolina hospitals to encourage consumers to make beverage choices that fit their lifestyles and are working with MUSC through their participation in the Working Well campaign and the Cooking Well Invitational.

Through its Clear on Calories initiative, Coca-Cola Consolidated provides calorie information on the front of bottles, and equipment and dispensers will feature “health-disks” informing consumers that there are “lots of choices  — calories optional.” Consumers will also be able to choose from a wider selection of beverage choices that includes juices, vitamin-fortified waters, regular and zero-calorie sports drinks, teas and purified water, in addition to their regular and zero-calorie drinks.

While Johnson is clear to state that MUSC doesn’t promote any particular choice, but rather she advocates educating consumers and provides incentives through access, pricing and marketing to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

“We are pleased that Coca-Cola Consolidated is looking for additional ways to educate consumers on healthy beverage decisions, and we are excited about the goals they have in store for South Carolina hospitals” said Johnson,. “It is important for all consumers, in the health care setting and beyond, to understand how each food and beverage they consume fits into a healthy, balanced lifestyle.” 

January 10, 2014

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