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banning Coke at a children’s hospital, one mom’s letter

Posted by on Oct 31, 2011 in Blog Posts | 16 comments

Hi Katja,
I just had to share this with you. I just got back from a weekend at Nationwide Children’s hospital in Columbus, OH with my daughter who had come down with pneumonia (she’s fine now). Our first day at the hospital was spent in the ER, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. By the time they got my daughter settled into her room at 5pm, my adrenaline wore off and I was suddenly starving and could feel a bad headache coming on so I went looking for some food and a Coke in hopes of staving it off. I don’t normally drink soda because it doesn’t quench my thirst, but I knew a nice jolt of caffeine would do me some good. However, there was no Coke to be found. The hospital has a new “no sugar-sweetened drinks” policy. Here’s a link to it:

   “To promote the health and well-being of our patients, families and staff, we will not sell or offer sugar-sweetened beverages that have no nutritional value. As one of the nation’s leading pediatric health care and research institutes, we are committed to addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity and creating and supporting a healthy work environment for employees.”

Uh, but they sell sports drinks and Vitamin Water and diet soda. For health reasons. So gross.

I’d like to address this issue when I fill out my survey with more than just emotional ranting about the fact that I am a grown woman and if I want a Coke while my daughter is in the hospital, I should darn well be able to acquire one easily, and I was hoping you could give me some studies/links off the top of your head that I could include that would combat the ridiculous nature of this policy.  -Lise

I have been remiss in getting her any studies (sorry, just pretty busy these days and this kind of thing would need some thinking. I am sure they have an “obesity task force” armed to the hilt with their studies…) Oh, and here is my favorite quote from their policy…

What if a patient needs regular soda for a medical reason? Answer: Regular Coke and Sprite will be available for patients who meet certain criteria. The hospital’s nurses and physicians will be able to assist with obtaining these items.”

What do you think about policies like this? Is it going too far? Is it OK for hospitals to have McDonalds and Taco Bell in them? Is Subway OK, but not KFC? What if they ban all juice, and you’re a diabetic having a low sugar incident? Is this really going to help? Is the message that calories are the most important factor helpful (since in this case that seems to be the deciding factor)? Are there unintended consequences to this kind of thinking, like banning chocolate milk and having so many more kids lose out on the protein, calcium and 7 other vital nutrients from milk? When 8th graders start skipping breakfast to save calories- after being brainwashed for years  with “how many calories does it take to work-off your orange juice”- should anyone be surprised?? I’m not saying 6 year-olds should drink soda, but this kind of knee-jerk reaction misses the point and can mess things up even more.

Here are a few of my random thoughts. I would reach for the same thing in this tired and stressed-out mom’s scenario. I am on antibiotics again (which I hate) and my system is off. When I don’t feel good, I often crave Coke and grease, or chicken pho… When I feel tired, or headachey, or sometimes darn it, I just want a Coke. Sometimes I drink the whole can, but most of the time I get a glass full of ice and drink about half a regular can. I remember post-C-section the hospital food was such crap. No flavor, nothing made from scratch, institutional food to the max. I ate PB and J for 4 days straight. I think of my mom’s experience in a hospital in Germany where an oncology nutritionist visited her, and the salads were as good as any restaurant, with fresh (ie not already wilted from a giant bag) lettuce and veggies and home-made vinaigrette, with scratch soups with potatoes and leeks and roasted meats. America seems to not get it. Ban Coke, but keep serving tasteless, “healthy” crap. It’s joyless, tasteless and it’s not making anyone skinny, oops, I mean “healthy.” (sarcasm)

Oh, and why is Diet Soda OK? Does it provide “nutritional value?” Will they stop serving white potatoes, or white rice, as some school districts are doing? Now, you don’t need to eat fries every day at school, but my goodness, would some home-made mashed potatoes be the end of the world?

Will they ban all vending machines and install water fountains so that you have to climb up three flights of stairs to get to?

Who decides what is “healthy?”

Another thing I thought about was residency, where twice a week I was on call, and around 3 am I would have a Pepsi and a bag of Doritos. It was the only time I ate it, it gave me something to do and look forward to. Is that so awful? My weight was stable all throughout, which is miraculous considering how screwed up my sleep was, how stressed, and how little exercise I got. Maybe if they want employees to be healthy they should enforce fair wages, fair hours, limiting shift-work, refuting diets, install a walkway around the grounds, or have a pleasant gym that is free, or a meditation center… Anyway, I just think this is so annoying. It’s paternalistic, simplistic and misguided.

Instead of offering us fewer choices, why not offer more? I rarely see vending machines with milk, or fruit nectars, or machines that offer fruits or cheese sticks or even a sandwich. Banning and deprivation is rarely the answer.

Thanks for reading my mini-rant. What say you?

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  1. Kirsten

    I agree that sometimes you just need a Coke (or Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Big Red, Mt Dew….whatever your **thing** is). Especially in emotionally and psychologically tough situations. It’s not all about the physical; psychological needs are important too. Caffeine does nothing for me other than increase my time spent in the ladies room ( so i rarely drink it, which makes it worse when I do) but in times of great stress, I find the taste of a regular can (hate bottles, taste too plastic funky) of Coke to be soothing.

    As an adult for many years now, I think that it’s essentially my prerogative to eat or drink whatever I want. I don’t need to be told that there are better options, because I’m clearly capable of making choices. Plus if if your going to lecture on nutrition and health, then by God, you’d better be able to back up your lecture and offer proof of how your promoting your ideals. Banning regular soft drinks on a health basis, yet still offering diet soft drinks, is hypocritical and contradictory. Diet soft drinks are no more healthy than regular ones, and in fact many studies and anecdotal evidence show that they are in fact much worse for you, being right smack in the middle of the Neuro toxin department. How can that be healthier?

    Plus, if medical experts are going to be so high and mighty, they might want to start practicing what they preach; my sister is an ICU nurse and she says that many of the nurses and doctors she works with have terrible habits- smoking being a big one, plus dreadful dietary intake. Don’t talk the talk if you can wLk the walk, I say.

  2. Jennifer Hansen

    I recently had to medevac into another time zone because my son had suffered a freak injury that was almost certainly not going to kill him at any moment. It was the “almost” part that got us medevaced. So there I was, while my son was having a medical scan, wandering around on about an hour of sleep in the past 36, so wiped out that I couldn’t recognize common objects without prompting, and there in the cafeteria . . . cue the chorus of sopranos warbling “aaaaaahhhh” . . . was a cooler full of Pepsis. The caffeine and sugar got me through the complicated mental operations required to get breakfast or dinner or whatever it was and as far as the waiting room, where, God love ’em, they had a stack of pillows in the corner.

    If they had told me that I had to drink black coffee in order to apologize for being fat, I think I would’ve started a riot. MY SON’S CAROTID ARTERY MAY BE GOING TO EXPLODE AND I CANNOT BRAIN. GIVE ME THE FRIGGING PEPSI.

    (Oh, and he’s OK.)

    • katja

      Oh my goodness. I am so sorry you all went through that. I’m sure a baggie of almonds and Vitamin water would have been healthier… snark. We are, first and foremost human beings, who need compassion, love, a little hand holding in crisis. If a pillow and a coke soothes our physical needs, it should be an option. This is a good metaphor in some ways for how we deal with “overweight” teens, or teens struggling with body image and weight. We forget, that first, they are children, and deserve our love and unconditional acceptance. Without that, we do far more harm than good…

      • Jennifer Hansen

        It was certainly a rocky few days. Injured and taken to the ER on Saturday, sedated and medevaced in the wee hours of Sunday morning, sedated again and put through the medical scan they didn’t want to do at our ER in case the worst happened right then and there, pronounced not about to bleed out and die Sunday night, and discharged Monday morning, after which we spent the next 48 hours trying to get home.

        About the cafeteria–it was at Harborview in Seattle–they had options. Pasta al pesto OR pizza with the works. Oatmeal porridge (nice and thick) OR hash browns. Pepsi OR black coffee. I found it confusing and faintly alarming then because I was not firing on all cylinders, but thinking back, it’s nice to know that they trusted the people who ate there to make their own decisions. There wasn’t even any attempt to “guide” people to eat the “right” food. I saw people in white coats eating mounds of hash browns. More power to ’em.

        Also, if you’re ever at Harborview, get the egg salad on pumpernickel. They do not skimp on the egg salad and it tastes fabulous with the pumpernickel. Very filling, easy to eat while wrangling an upset toddler who is still goofing on Fentanyl, and probably very nutritious.

  3. tanz33

    This is a common policy in New Zealand hospitals and it annoys the heck out of me. Our local hospital allows only sugar-free and diet versions of soft drinks: some juices (natural only, so very expensive) and there are no junk foods of any kind in the vending machines; it is all veggie crisps, whole-wheat crackers, and organic fruit and muesli bars. Like you describe here I have ended up at the hospital unexpectedly with a very sick child before and I’ve had to go long stretches (once more than 12 hours) with no food. I *like* Coke, and as I don’t drink coffee I sometimes appreciate the caffine *and* the sugar (plus if I feel a migraine coming on it helps, I’m not sure why). And to add insult to injury they’ve closed the ‘staff’ cafeteria (it used to be open to visitors too) so the only source of food onsite is a very expensive flash cafe (which, of course, charges a premium for their ‘organic this’ and ‘vegan that’. Very frustrating when all I want is a quick sugar hit to get me through the next few hours! But the main thing that angers me is that they’re treating me like a naughty child.

    (And I have to confess – both times I gave birth I had my partner/parents bring me a can of coke. Because I wanted one!)

    • Samantha C

      caffeine actually is effective against migraines, it’s one of the ingredients in Excedrin’s migraine formula. 🙂

  4. Olivia

    As a parent of a child who spent more than 2 weeks in NICU, I’m not sure how allowing me a little bit of sugar and caffeine would’ve caused a problem. Mental health is part of health as well. Haven’t these people ever heard of holistic health care?
    My kids’ school has implemented a similar policy but their scary monster is candy. They’ve asked us to not even pack it in the kids lunch. It would totally ok for me to pack a giant bag of pork rinds and a red bull, but they have to draw the line at candy. Ridiculous!

    • tanz33

      Last year my 5 year old came home from school concerned that she was being ‘bad’ by having honey or jam sandwiches in her lunch… because they were sugary and therefore ‘bad’ for you 🙁 I wasn’t very impressed with the school.

  5. Michelle

    I have only one thing to say – “Add on, don’t take away.”

  6. Twistie

    You know, I bet they get a lot of people coming through there who are dealing with an emergency with a child, who have waited for hours to eat because they’re too wired and terrified, and who suddenly find themselves crashing because the adrenaline went away. Even if you don’t have diabetes or run to hypoglycemia, you can wind up in a pretty horrible state with desperately low blood sugar after hours of extreme stress and lack of eating. At that point, I want a candy bar. I don’t want a Coke… but that’s because I just don’t like Coke. Or Pepsi. Or any cola drink. It’s just not a flavor I care for. But I want my sugared snack, and you want yours, and our bodies actually need something along those lines.

    And if I had a sick child in the hospital, I wouldn’t want him or her to have to prove to a doctor that they deserve a soda with real sugar. I’d sign a permission slip. And unless they can give me a more compelling reason to deny a child chocolate milk than ‘but she might get FAT someday!’ I’d rather my kid got all the good things in milk in a way they enjoy drinking it. If a little chocolate syrup or Ovaltine or Quick gets the milk into the kid, I’m all for it.

    Paternalistic crap.

  7. Ben Edwards

    We were at this same hospital a few weeks ago and ran into this same policy. I agree that it is paternalistic and stupid. a
    Also, diet drinks upset my stomach.

  8. unscrambled

    As long as this sort of thing continues to be true, sugared soda will continue to be a no-go:

    Now, do I think that hc costs flattened out because of sugar? Probably not. I think no smoking (including urine tests!), walking programs, free yoga, meditation seminars, free gym, and financial penalties on the health insurance if you don’t participate in whatever thing they want you to do (exercise, intensive blood sugar control programs, on and on) are the things that produced it. Basically, 4 years ago the admin said: get on board with this, alla you, or GTFO. Lots of people, as an aside, chose to GTFO–so at this point, CCF has employees that are on board with all of this, or at least willing to significantly try (AFIAK, the financial penalties are for not trying their interventions, not at failing at them, which is maybe possibly a tiny wee bit less horrible).

    Also: most of the snacks in the snack machines are super gross, just as they were before, except now they are less delicious (fritos>baked lays, clearly. both yucky to me, but let’s be real). The upside is that you can get a bag of almonds, which is nice when you’re stuck there for several hours for one reason or another.

    • katja

      Interesting. Maybe costs flattened because they are discriminatory in their hiring? I think there needs to be more to the story. Again, I am all about wellness and prevention, but when we go about it the right way… I like almonds, so, Huzzah that you can get a bag of nuts, but sometimes I just want a darn coke…I also like: “walking programs, free yoga, meditation seminars, free gym,” Having healthy choices is great, banning stuff is not so great. Just my opinion…

      • unscrambled

        I am totally with you, 1000%

        I am also for sick people (and all people) being able to eat whatever the heck they want.

        I think discriminatory hiring (conscious or not) is not out of the question, for sure.

        I posted the article because I think hospital admins around the country are looking at this way of going about dealing with hc costs and thinking: how do we do this, pronto.

  9. Anne

    Oh the hypocrisy, it burns! They preach health and nutrition yet offer chemical laden “diet” drinks. And a bottle of non-diet Vitamin Water has pretty much the same amount of sugar as a Coke. But they cleverly call it “crystalline fructose” and since it’s not evil HFCS and it has VITAMINS, it must be healthy! Ridiculous.