In a move aimed at fostering employee health, the University of California, San Francisco, decided to ban the sale of sugary drinks. Its 24,000 employees and 8,500 visitors and patients can choose from bottled water, diet drinks, unsweetened teas and a few 100 percent fruit juices with no added sugar. Starting last year, none of the cafeterias, vending machines or even fast food restaurants such as Subway and Panda Express have served sodas. Now, a year into the ban on sugary drinks, the university is talking about how the initiative has worked and urging other employers to do the same, regardless of the results of Tuesday's election.
"We're a public health institution, and there's something not right about us making money off of products that we know are making people sick," Laura Schmidt, professor of health policy at UCSF, told the New York Times. "How dare we profit off of a product that our own doctors say causes metabolic disease?"
Schmidt, who helped organize the ban, said it was easy to convince university leadership that it was a worthwhile policy, and much of the faculty quickly got on board. Over a four-month period while students and staff were being educated on the new policy, the university's beverage supplier phased out sodas and sugary drinks--leaving water, zero-calorie drinks and fruit juices that didn't contain added sugar.
Prior to the ban, some staff members were drinking about three cans of soda per day at work and at home, according to a survey of 2,500 employees. Six months after the ban, that amount had been cut by about a quarter. To prove the benefits of cutting sugary drinks, the University is studying blood samples from 214 employees who have lowered their soda intake. It says early results are promising.
Despite the World Health Organization's call for countries to tax sugary drinks, the beverage industry is spending millions to oppose such efforts. And critics say a "grocery tax" on food and drinks harms small businesses and poor citizens. But the Times reports that at least 30 medical centers like the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the University of Michigan Health System have placed some kind of restriction on the sale of soda and similar sugary drinks.
It's a major step to align with the university's mission of promoting public and employee health. And it it hopes other large employers will follow suit--no matter what happens on Election Day.