In This Section      

Dome - So Long, Soda

Dome November 2014

So Long, Soda

By: Paul B. Rothman
Date: November 6, 2014

Imagine you’re a nutritionist working in one of our hospitals. You consult with a patient at risk for type 2 diabetes. You talk to him about his lifestyle and give feedback on how to eat smarter.

Afterward, you rush to a work luncheon. Laid out on the table are sandwiches and salads, and your choice of cold beverages, including Coca-Cola, Sprite and Minute Maid apple juice. These drinks contain 39, 38 and 45 grams of sugar, respectively, in a 12-ounce serving, making them precisely the syrupy refreshments you just advised your patient to avoid.

We all want to make good choices, but sometimes our environment is teeming with temptations. At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we want to make it easier to choose the best option. We already offer discounts for gym memberships and weight-loss programs. The next step is making sure that healthy beverages are widely available to our employees and visitors while phasing out sugary offerings.

Under the new Healthy Beverage Initiative, meetings and events at most Johns Hopkins Medicine locations exclusively will provide healthy options, such as water, low-fat milk and unsweetened tea. We are also tweaking the availability, size and pricing of beverages in the cafeteria and other retail sites. Color-coded labeling of those drinks—green is good, yellow less so and red should be avoided—will help us all make more informed decisions about sugar and calorie content.

After all, knowing what is in the food we consume empowers us to make smart choices. When Pamela Paulk, our senior vice president of human resources, pointed out in a mass email that there are 17 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of soda, one colleague was so shocked he vowed to give it up completely. I was similarly troubled a couple of months ago when I read the new research linking artificial sweeteners to elevated blood sugar. I have since cut out diet soda and am trying to stick to water or tea (hold the Equal). 

In the case of sugary drinks, the research makes a clear case for change. For starters, regular soda, sports drinks and other sugary beverages are the largest source of empty calories in the U.S. diet. Scientific evidence consistently links their consumption with an increased risk of weight gain, obesity and diabetes. One reason: Fluids don’t leave you feeling full, so you don’t skip calories after a soda the way you might to compensate for, say, a slab of chocolate cake.

Our Strategic Plan calls for real action to support a healthy workforce. The next target is cigarette smoking. Our Wellness Steering Committee is beginning to research a wide variety of options for tobacco control—from incentives and programs for quitting to broadening smoking restrictions on campus, or even declining to hire smokers. Other health systems, including Cleveland Clinic, already have begun screening out job candidates who smoke. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine is an organization devoted to improving wellness. That work starts with promoting healthy habits on our own campuses.


To read more insights from Dean Rothman, visit