New push to swap out sugary drinks in Vermont workplaces

Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 4:19 PM EST
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There's a push to get sugary drinks out of workplaces in Vermont.

Research from RiseVT found half of Vermonters said they had one to five sugar-sweetened drinks a week; 21% said they had six to 10 of them.

On average, Vermonters drank about seven sugary drinks a week.

And as for where people guzzled down, 72% were at home, but 47% of people said they drank sugary drinks at restaurants and 43% downed them at work.

Workplaces are an easy target for change. And as our Cat Viglienzoni found out, health care organizations are taking the lead.

On average, Americans consume three to six times more added sugar than the CDC recommends. A way to change that is by changing what's in the cooler.

In the coolers at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, you can find juice, seltzer, water and diet soda, but no drinks with added sugar. They haven't been stocked here in eight years.

"It wasn't fun at first," said Ed Striebe, the hospital's director of hospitality.

Striebe says he got some hate mail when they first stopped carrying the sodas and other sugary beverages that people were accustomed to. But he says he and other staff members felt it would be hypocritical to keep them in stock.

"Although healthy eating habits are a matter of personal choice, healthy menu items and healthy items do really make a difference in helping people make better choices," Striebe said.

"It's because we have to walk the walk. Because when we have providers educating their patients about making healthier choices, we can't then turn around and be selling them soda in our cafeteria," said Beth Silloway, a RiseVT program manager and community outreach coordinator for Gifford.

Staff members told us they appreciated it because it made it easier to make healthy choices.

"Well, if it's not available, we don't drink it," said Dani Sweet, a registered nurse in the pediatrics department.

And that's the philosophy behind RiseVT's "Sweet Enough" campaign. Their research showed of the Vermonters who drank sugary beverages, 67% of them said they were willing to change their behavior.

"They really said they wanted swaps," said Marissa Parisi, the executive director of RiseVT.

So that's exactly what Parisi says they did in the vending machines in their own offices in Colchester.

"All of this is new. All the seltzers and the waters are new," she said.

Because their mission is all about promoting healthier lifestyles.

"As a health care organization, it wasn't really suiting our mission anymore to be providing those beverages," Parisi said. "So we removed everything from root beers to colas to you name it, it was in there."

They're working with convenience stores, workplaces and hospitals around the state to promote healthier options for drinks. They say Gifford is a good example of how employees will quickly get used to the changes.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What do you hear from people eight years out?

Ed Striebe: Nothing. Nothing.

The Sweet Enough campaign started last fall and runs for at least a year. After that, RiseVT is going to do another round of research to see if it made a difference in how many sugary drinks people consumed.

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