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  • Jan 13, 2019

CHA Aims to Improve Community Well-being with Its Healthy Beverage Initiative

Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is focused on improving the health of the community inside and outside of its clinic and hospital walls.

Part of this entails communicating and demonstrating healthy behaviors. On January 1, 2019, CHA launched its Healthy Beverage Initiative, removing sugar-sweetened beverages and drinks with artificial sweeteners from its cafeterias, gift shop and vending machines.

Steven Gortmaker, PhD, professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and member of the CHA Board Committee on Population Health (BCPH) noted, "Sugary drinks contribute 50 percent of the added sugar in our (Americans') daily diets. Consumption of sugary drinks contributes to both child and adult obesity and adult diabetes, heart disease and many cancers."

The BCPH at CHA was established to advance population health (improving the health of a defined segment of the community) efforts at CHA and make recommendations to the CHA Board of Trustees. The committee, which helped to spearhead the Healthy Beverage Initiative at CHA, is comprised of key stakeholders with from health policy, government, academics, social service agencies, advocacy groups, providers and CHA Board of Trustee members.

Sugary drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and chronic health conditions. According to the University of California, San Francisco, liquid sugar, found in soda and sports drinks, is the largest source of added sugar in the American diet (36 percent). Drinking one 12-ounce soda every day, or seven each week, can increase the risk of heart disease by 30 percent.

"CHA is one of the first health systems in the state to remove these beverages from its locations and is setting an important example for the region," said David Martin, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Council, a broad-based coalition in Massachusetts focused on promoting policies and programs that enable healthier lifestyles. "Population health, at its core, is a method of enabling citizens to make healthy choices each day. CHA is leading that way toward reducing risks associated with obesity and diabetes in the community." Mr. Martin is also a member of CHA's BCPH.

A wide range of drinks is available to the CHA community, including flavored and sparkling waters, plant-based and cow's milk, unsweetened tea and cold brew coffee. Although sugary drinks will no longer be sold at CHA, individuals may bring in their own. The Healthy Beverage Initiative does not impact inpatient units and patients will still be able to have soft drinks and juice. Additionally, staff and visitors are welcome to bring in beverages of their choosing.

CHA's Healthy Beverage Initiative is in line with broader public health efforts across the country to increase consumption of healthier beverages (like water) and improve population health. It is also consistent with other CHA initiatives supporting employee well-being, including onsite yoga classes, sleep education, financial wellness and an annual walking challenge that attracts nearly 1,000 participants.

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