Physicians believe hospitals should be serving healthy foods

The New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) is pleased to learn that Vitalité Health Network, one of our province’s two regional health authorities, will eliminate many sugar-sweetened beverages from its hospitals, including sugary drinks, energy drinks and those containing sweeteners. This is a positive step that will encourage and enable New Brunswickers to make healthier choices.

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to serious health concerns in our province. In fact, unhealthy eating has surpassed tobacco as the leading cause contributing to chronic diseases. Furthermore, the largest intake in sugar in the Canadian diet is coming from beverages. This raises the concern that many New Brunswickers, even those who limit their intake of sweets and high-sugar foods, may be overlooking the sugar content in their beverages.

Excessive sugar consumption is contributing to the obesity epidemic, along with a number of other health concerns. Data published by the New Brunswick Health Council in 2017 showed that nearly 70 per cent of adults in in this province are either overweight or obese. Health Canada says that obesity is directly linked to a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. With these conditions on the rise, experts are predicting that we may soon have the first generation of individuals with a shorter life span then their parents.

The NBMS has long been an advocate for reducing New Brunswickers’ sugar consumption and promoting healthier diets. An occasional treat is fine, but regular consumption of high-sugar content is an issue that needs to be addressed. Even 100 per cent fruit juices and sweetened milk can contain high amounts of sugar. The convenience of sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines and cafeterias contributes to their popularity and regular consumption, which in return leads to the health problems seen by physicians.

Our health-care facilities should be leading the way to a healthier New Brunswick. Hospitals and other health-care facilities exist to treat illnesses which are increasingly being caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices. Vitalité has decided to provide healthy options for its staff, patients, and visitors. It is a trend we hope to see adopted by other public institutions and workplaces.

Removing sugar-sweetened beverages from hospitals won’t solve this issue on its own, but it is a start. This decision can help start conversations about healthier diets and healthier lifestyles, which can lead to a reduction in chronic illnesses in this province.

The NBMS encourages New Brunswickers to drink more water. We suggest adding slices of fresh food to add flavour to your water. Keeping a pitcher of water in your fridge and carrying a water bottle with you are some more ways to make healthier choices a little easier.

The NBMS commends Vitalité for taking this first step toward promoting lower-sugar diets, and we hope that other health-care facilities will follow in this example and encourage and enable their staff and visitors to make healthier choices.

Dr. Serge Melanson, MD, CCFP-EM, is an emergency room physician and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.