"This really fit in with our mission to help people achieve health for life," said Scott Steiner, the chief operating officer of MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, which is part of the Vanguard Health Chicago and has, among changes, removed its deep fryers, overhauled vending machine offerings and added a high-nutrition, low-cost salad bar in its cafeteria.
Steiner said that some of the changes have elicited grumbling from staff members, but "with each change the grumbling has decreased, and for everyone one who complains about the changes, two people thank us and say that this is the kind of place where they want to work."
Calls to other large hospital groups in the Chicago area reveal that Vanguard is breaking new ground.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital also still serves sugary beverages but says it places them and other less healthful options in the back of the cafeteria, while more nutritious options are stationed at the front.
Rush University Medical Center and Advocate Health Care also said they have no plans to remove sugar-sweetened beverages. Cook County Hospitals, however, have recently implemented the county Health Department's "Rethink Your Drink" campaign that encourages citizens to choose more healthful beverage options.
"The posters for (Rethink Your Drink) are all over," Cook County Hospital Systems spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said. Although there are still sugar-sweetened beverages offered at Cook County facilities, the hospital now stocks more water in vending machines and is aggressively encouraging its employees to be mindful of the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, Kollias said.
"That's their prerogative, but we would view that move as unfortunate," said Tim Bramlet of the Illinois Beverage Association, which represents bottlers in the state. "We believe that having a healthy lifestyle is about balanced diet and moderation, and bans don't promote that."
John Bluford is a trustee and former chairman of the 6,000-strong American Hospital Association, where last year he led a formal call to "create a culture of health and wellness in hospitals … to lead the way in improving the health of the communities we serve."
At Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., where Bluford serves as president and CEO, he said they have revamped the vending options, encouraged more walking and reduced the amount of fried foods in the cafeteria. He predicts the trend will gain steam as hospitals see a "return on investment."
"No. 1, those institution that have done it for a longer period have already seen positive results," he said. "And No. 2, it's the right thing to do."